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Review of Helen at the Hen and Chickens Theatre

HelenI thought I knew the story of Helen of Troy. Basically, the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen caused a massive war which led to thousands of death and introduced the world to the idea of a Trojan Horse. Turns out that I was wrong, as ancient Greek tragedian Euripides makes clear in his play Helen which I saw recently as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, at the Hen & Chickens Theatre.

In a snub to Aphrodite, the goddesses Athena and Hera had created a phantom look-alike of Helen (Elena Clements) that Paris had run away with. The real Helen had been hidden away in Egypt under the protection of King Proteus. Proteus has now died and his son Theoclymenus (Darren Ruston) the new king with a penchant for killing Greeks, intends to marry Helen and make her his Queen. Helen, however, has other ideas and has remained faithful to her husband Menelaus (Nicholas Bright). Now, the wars are over and Helen is brought news by Teucer (Brian Eastty) that Menelaus is dead. Helen refuses to believe this and consults Theonoe (Sarah Day-Smith), Theoclymenus’ sister and a prophetess to find out what her fate will be. Will the arrival of a demented looking man wearing nothing but a fragment of a torn sail be the catalyst to bringing everyone’s story to a just conclusion and how will Theoclymenus react to the news brought by his soldier (Marius Clements)?

I have to say that the idea that the entire Trojan war and the ten-year siege of Troy could all have occurred because two goddesses were hacked off that a mortal thought another goddess was prettier than them. It’s a fascinating idea really and the story that Euripides wove around Helen is potentially quite interesting. With a running time of only an hour, it is quite a story to get across and whilst I was watching, it felt as if there were things occurring away from the stage and we were only seeing the final part of some scenes. I have actually read the original – well a translated version – and this has reinforced my opinion that this version has been taken abridged a little too far.

Having said that, the production itself was pretty good. All of the character actors also played members of the Greek Chorus – a staple of this type of drama – complete with face masks that I actually found rather unsettling to look at, nice work by Angela Loucaides. Elena Clements was very strong as Helen and Nicholas Bright’s performance as Menelaus was an interesting mixture of frenetic and measured that nicely hinted at the mental issues the character was suffering. I did think that the reconciliation between Helen and Menelaus was a bit underplayed considering how much the two of them were meant to be in love. Darren Ruston was a nice villain as Theoclymenus and Sarah-Day Smith was suitably spooky as the prophetess Theonoe with really expressive eyes.

Overall, the production was, for me, a great introduction to the work of Euripides but I have to admit when the performance finished I was left with a bit of an unsatisfied feeling as if something was missing. I think it was a brave decision to tackle Helen as part of the excellent Camden Fringe but I’m afraid, for me, it didn’t fully work.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Euripides’ alternative play following the Trojan War breaks the rules of Ancient Greek theatre. First produced in 412 BC for the Dionysia Festival; Helen is a controversial escape-tragi-comedy retold by Theatre of Heaven and Hell. It’s themes of feminism and the futility of war are as relevant today as they were over two thousand years ago.

Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA

Fri 25th – Sun 27th Aug 2017 7.30pm

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