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Euripides/McGuinness Helen

A new version by Frank McGuinness based on a literal translation by Fionnuala Murphy


Shakespeare's Globe, London August 2009



Directed by Deborah Bruce
Designed by Gideon Davey
Composed by Claire van Kampen

Holly Atkins Chorus
Philip Cumbus Chorus
Penny Downie Helen [pictured]
Jack Farthing Chorus
Diveen Henry Theonoe
James Lailey Pollux
Penny Layden Gatekeeper
Fergal McElherron Castor
Paul McGann Menelaus [pictured ]
Rawiri Paratene Theoclymenes
William Purefoy Chorus
Ian Redford Servant
Ukweli Roach Messenger
Tom Stuart Chorus
Graham Vick Chorus
Andrew Vincent Teucer
Musicians Phil Hopkins, Irita Kutchmy, Dai Pritchard

Running Time:
1 hour and 30 minutes with no interval


Having been rather put out to discover how savagely and - I thought - crudely the text of Troilus & Cressida had been "cut and joined" at The Globe, I approached this new version of Euripides with some apprehension.

Prepared by having enjoyed reading on the internet a version of this compact, racy play translated by E. P. Coleridge, I quickly capitulated to the charm of Frank McGuinness' new version of an unfamiliar play which most of us were seeing for the first time.

The McGuinness text (Faber) was unavailable at the theatre, but from a back row seat every word was audible and it flowed comfortably, colloquial maybe, but it didn't jar at all and helped to engage the audience in a splendid mystery story of two Helens from two and a half millennia ago, which came up fresh and as amusing as can be imagined for anything from the ghastly, futile Trojan War, set in an Egyptian graveyard [contemporary parallels inescapable].

It is about love, separation, reunion and threatened parting again; better not to anticipate the ending which is built up with considerable excitement... The acting was fine, especially from Penny Downie, Paul McGann, [pictured]Rawiri Paratene, Ukweli Roach and Penny Layden. Diveen Henry as the all-knowing seer, and the leader of the Chorus might well have been a little stronger.

Musical values, in the experienced hands of Claire van Kampen, were sound and pervasive within the structure of the play, in a variety of idioms, middle-Eastern folk (Greek rather than Egyptian?), choral singing and a splendid counter-tenor, William Purefoy. Along with the spoken language, it all adds up to a feel-good experience without compromising the structure of a quite extraordinary play; comedy, tragedy, romance? "- - a genre-busting drama of great panache, often reminiscent of such late Shakespearean plays as The Winter’s Tale and Pericles- - " (Telegraph).

For us, this was the most rewarding of all this year's new shows at The Globe so far. It is good that they are diversifying and we look forward particularly to A New World - A Life of Thomas Paine by Trevor Griffiths (29 August through to October)

Peter Grahame Woolf