Whilst I admire the principal of free outdoor theatre at The Scoop (the amphitheatre next to City Hall on the South bank of the Thames), Helen of Troy is a pretty bad example. I’ve enjoyed Phil Willmott’s production at this venue over the last 5 years, but Helen of Troy seems too dumbed down, with pretensions to relevancy (American Imperialism or knife crime anyone?). You don’t need to shoehorn relevant issues into ancient Greek drama, it has its own special ability to talk to us today (as many recent productions have shown). Willmott also makes a big mistake in adapting Euripides play too harshly, he turn verse into sometimes very pedestrian English (which jar with the more high blown passages). He effectively abolishes the chorus and sets the action in Libya rather than Egypt for some reason. I realise that his 75 minute version must be concise and comprehensible, but making Hermes (the God) a hoody wearing game console player and having Atticus (Menelaus’s slave) played as a camper than Christmas butler (sub panto) was beyond what was necessary in my view. It just seemed crass and without real reason, everything becoming over the top by then end (talk about a camp King). The story is an alternative version of the conventional Helen myth, here Helen is actually in North Africa for the duration of the Trojan war, the Helen present in Troy being a phantom sent by the Gods (remember Helen’s dad is Zeus!). It has narrative power, even in this version.
The acting was broad outdoor acting, which is exactly what I expected, and perfectly reasonable. But I wasn’t convinced by the beach hut set either. Despite its manifold faults, sitting in this amphitheatre on a lovely evening as the sun goes down is quite pleasurable, and seeing a play for free can’t hurt you, can it?