Paris Alexandros, by Euripides, Actors of Dionysus, October 2012Posted on 29 October 2012
This was a theatrical reading at Europe House in London on 25th October 2012.
Euripides’ play The Women of Troy starts two days after the Greeks have taken the city, and ends with Queen Hekabe stepping forward into slavery. It is the final part of a Trojan Trilogy whose first two parts are largely lost, but inspired by known fragments of Euripides’ work, David Stuttard has given an imaginative recreation of the first play: Paris Alexandros. As he says, seeing only the final play is like seeing the end of Hamlet without the rest, and the full trilogy is important for understanding the playwright’s take on a great Trojan misadventure.
Here we find Queen Hekabe contemptuous of a young man brought up by shepherds who named him Alexandros. She encounters the youth when the shepherds accompany him to Troy on the day of the annual games honouring the childhood death of her son Paris. He wants to compete, and though she dismisses him as a mere slave, King Priam is more sympathetic. He accepts him as an athlete and the youth fulfils his promise, besting the king’s sons Hector and Deiphobus and winning the games. To assuage the envious fury of Deiphobus, Hekabe plans to kill the youth by offering him a poisoned drink, and sends for her daughter Cassandra.
Having already abandoned her infant son Paris to death following a dream whose interpretation was that he would cause the destruction of the city, Hekabe will now kill some other innocent. But when Cassandra hands him the poisoned drink … she lets the cup fall in horror. Suddenly her gift of prophecy is in full flood as she sees the future of Troy. In a theatrical speech that reminded me of Isolde’s Seht ihr’s freunde, seht ihr’s nicht? she calls to her mother, can’t you see it, can’t you see it? — a thousand ships, the death of her own brothers, her father, the capture of Troy, the enslavement of its women. “Kill him!” she screams, for this Alexandros is her brother Paris whose abduction of Helen from Sparta will cause the downfall of Troy.
But it is Cassandra’s fate that no one ever believes her prophecies, and Hekabe is delighted. Paris has returned and defeated all of Troy in the games, so the prophecy is fulfilled and there is no more to fear. General celebration, and he must now stay at home forever. Of course he will … but first he must fulfil his destiny by visiting Sparta.
Stuttard’s theatrical reconstruction of the play, beautifully performed by the Actors of Dionysus, reduced some audience members to tears, particularly in the scene where Cassandra, brilliantly played by artistic director Tamsin Shasha, foretells the future. Fenella Fielding gave a thoroughly convincing performance of her mother Hekabe, and Carol Royle as Athene delivered a gripping speech at the start of the play. Matt Barber made a coolly handsome Alexandros, and the whole cast was uniformly excellent, as was James Albrecht’s direction.
Seeing this performed by the Actors of Dionysus was a treat, and for more information on the Trojan Trilogy as reconstructed by David Stuttard, click here.