WAR and women are two topics that seem to share a discordant bond. Rape, pillaging and subjugation can be discussed within both contexts. Holly Robinson’s production of Trojan Barbie, by Christine Evans, invites us to consider them side by side by presenting us with the refugee camp of the Trojan War after ten years of ravaging violence.
Here you’ll find the whole gang: King Priam’s wilting widow, Hecuba; the crazed, prophecy-spewing Cassandra; the devastated Andromache and of course, the girl of moment: Helen of Troy. With a chorus of other women, they deliver their words with varying trance-like forlornness and throat-rasping desperation to convey the despair of their slain husbands, murdered children and burnt city. The set’s floor is littered with Barbies that evoke the image of corpses and scattered body parts, while also symbolising the women’s commodified status in the refugee camp under the patriarchal rule of enemy soldiers.
Holly Robinson does an excellent job in adapting a somewhat awkward script. The audience receives some much-needed comic relief from the sub-plot of Lotte, the single, ‘looking-for-love’ doll repairer, played by Heather Robinson. Heather draws a stream of laughter from the audience with her charming Geordie accent as the clueless, over-prepared but loveable Brit abroad, embarking on a ‘singles’ only’ cruise to Turkey.
At this point we anticipate that the two plots will intersect, but I did not expect it to be quite so literal. As Lotte innocently wanders around Troy’s ruins she is directly pulled into the story, interacting with the Trojan women and being flung about by the soldiers. What has happened here? Has Lotte gone back in time? Is this possible, despite the fact that the main plot is already set in the modern day? A few incompatible ideas make me raise a perplexed eyebrow. But I see that it is supposed to communicate the ongoing nature of the abuse in women’s refugee camps throughout history, although this only became clearer towards the end of the play.
Other elements could have perhaps done with some more attention, such as the shaky and somewhat random synchronisation of spoken lines and movement sequences. Cues could have been more on the ball, with no interval the audience needed to be kept engaged with more fluid scene transitions, and at times there were awkward pauses as we waited for the next actor to come on. The stuffed animal representing the tiger was a bit unnecessary, but hats off for turning the flat venue of Tutu’s into a visually interesting space.
The acting has little cause for criticism, apart from perhaps greater emphases on diction. As Hecuba, Mariya Hussain gave a wonderfully controlled and stoic performance as the ‘Mother of Troy’ figure. Caitlin Evans gave a portrayal of Polly X as the pre-teen princess of Troy who engaged the audience with her vibrancy and attitude. Cara Davis got the claws out as the narcissistic Helen with her off-hand delivery of bitchy, apathetic comments and was definitely a sight for sore eyes, dressed up to the nines amongst the debris and ripped dresses of the camp.
There might have been a need to tighten the screws of the production, but in all, Trojan Barbie was a great way to end Women’s History Month, bearing witness to female hardship that dates all the way back to ancient history. The plot demands that women’s stories are not sidelined, since after all, it was a woman who sparked the Trojan war.