Festival Theatre

Trojan Women

Neil Cooper

Four stars

The pains of war are plain to hear in theNational Changgeuk Company of Korea’s fresh look at Euripides’ ancient rendering of the Greek myths. It may have been in the company’s repertoire since 2017, but given the current state of the world, this brutal tale of a ravaged nation and the women left behind looks and sounds as pertinent as ever. Especially as the women are key players rather than collateral damage.

In Ong Keng Sen’s mighty production, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, her witchy daughter Cassandra, Andromache, the widow of Hecuba’s son Hector, and of course Helen, whose kidnap by Hecuba’s son Paris arguably kicked off the war, are the stars of the show.

As they enter in turn from set designer Cho Myung Hee’s tunnel-like white monolith, each occupies the spotlight while sparring with assorted messengers and deities.

In a show performed in Korean with English surtitles, Ong sets out his store in an audacious fusion of Pansori and K-pop. Pansori is the Korean performance form dating back to the seventeenth century, and featuring a sole singing performer engaging with the audience with the gosu - a percussionist - backing them up. K-pop is a far more recent and infinitely more commercial phenomenon.

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As video designer Austin Switser’s panoramic swathes of fire, water and stars cover the back wall, an ensemble of musicians soundtrack the affair on traditional Korean instruments.

As each woman sings, they unleash torrents of defiance and anguish by way of Bae Sam-sik’s at times playful script and Pansori legend Ahn Sook-sun’s composition, while the chorus provide back-up care of new work by K- pop producer Jung Jae-il.

This makes for a surprisingly modern rendering. It the show was a cabaret, Yi So-yeon’s Cassandra flings her feathers with power ballad panache, while casting male actor Kim Jun-soo shifts the play’s dynamic by way of piano led torch songs.

It is Kim Kim-mi as Hecuba, however, who serves up a litany of raw, pure emotion in a series of devastating dispatches from the front line.