“The Women of Troy” is vintage Barrie Kosky shock theater — grotesque, confronting, humiliating and, ultimately, very human. The co-adapter and director has added live piano accompaniment and hauntingly beautiful harmonizing by a chorus, which reps the only relief in Euripides’ harrowing play about female victims of war. However, the Sydney Theater Company world premiere would be a chore to watch if it weren’t for that music and the length, mercifully short at 80 minutes.
Its brief duration is no doubt the reason the play is performed without intermission, but possibly also to hinder theatergoers from making an early exit (some did anyway) and to sustain the intensity of the experience. The audience is drawn into the drama by the tight U-shaped seating and burlap-covered chairs which appear to imply the bloodshed will spread beyond the stage.
A masked captor carries Hecuba (former STC a.d. Robyn Nevin) onstage, her crown placed mockingly over the pillowslip that covers her head. With silent industriousness, the captor strips her of jewels and clothes, leaving her bewildered and exposed, wearing only a bloodied slip.
Hecuba is soon joined by other captive women whose anguished cries and crazy babbling peaks and subsides, punctuated by gunshots on and offstage. Terror is everywhere.
Hecuba rails against her captors but realizes the futility of it as her sons are both dead and her city is being demolished by the Greek soldiers that entered in the belly of a wooden horse. Eventually, Menelaus (Arthur Dignam) appears to seek her opinion about the fate of his wife Helen (Melita Jurisic).
The actors rattle around the stage with their rough, barking language underscoring their natural state of bewilderment after 10 years of war. Sounding less like women than men under siege and fearful of death, their brutish exchanges are interspersed with the divine but anguished harmonizing.
In her first role as Cassandra, Jurisic raves and writhes like Regan in “The Exorcist.” Her subsequent appearances are more in sync with Nevin, the only other thesp with substantial presence until Dignam’s humorous entry on a motorized wheelchair. Nevin’s Hecuba is the relative point of calm within this maelstrom of violence and theatrical transgression.
Alice Babidge costumes the captors in badly cut trousers, chunky white sandshoes and curly dark hair, echoing the contempo stereotype of a Middle Eastern terrorist. Her simple set is just a wall of faded school lockers packed horizontally and vertically up to the rafters.
Designed more to provoke than entertain, “The Women of Troy” confronts the spectator with the horror of murder, rape and bloodshed. Kosky’s last collaboration with co-writer Tom Wright for STC, “The Lost Echo,” was mad, relentless, playful and joyous, while this one is brutal, even painful, but nevertheless worth experiencing for those who can stomach it.