Marina Carr's take on Hecuba is irreverent and unsettling, writes
History, the cliche goes, is written by the winners. For Marina Carr, the same applies to myth. Her Hecuba at Project Arts Centre for the Dublin Theatre Festival turns the Greek account of the Trojan War on its head: the Trojans are the victims, not the aggressors.
Theirs is a rich, cultivated civilisation, destroyed by barbarian Greeks, smelling of “goat shit and mackerel” as a typically earthy line has it. Hell, there’s not even a Helen. She was “made up”, just a casus belli for these rough, genocidal invaders.
Hecuba herself commits no bloody deeds of revenge. Carr rejects Euripedes’ portrayal, and instead gives us the personification of a fallen world. A queen reduced to refugee.
We meet her first in the throne room. But Carr describes a charnel house: butchered limbs piled high, a baby carried aloft, headless.
In our minds eye, it’s hard not to think of terrible YouTube images of the Syrian war, and how that allowed us watch a country collapse in short, gruesome, video clips.
And yet, despite the production being marketed and framed with explicit links to present wars and migration crises, there is nothing overt in the text, or in Lynne Parker’s direction.
That’s for the best. Our present dread of collapse is palpable enough. It need not be laboured.
Instead, Parker has given Carr’s text the veneration it deserves on its own merit, expertly leading a superb ensemble through it.
A technically superb Aislin McGuckin shines in the title role, while Brian Doherty brings fully to life the contradictions of a well written part of Agamemnon. Martha Breen also excels, as an unflinching Cassandra.
The writing is extraordinarily vivid, and it’s as if designer Sarah Bacon takes the hint. Why try to compete?
So, we have a bare stage, save for a few scattered conference-room chairs. The seating is arranged in traverse, which adds another layer of intensity.
We watch ourselves watching, as the characters themselves narrate, speak each other’s lines, and generally engage in myth making, or rather, re-making. The effect of multiple points of view, of immediacy and distance, all intertwining, is utterly absorbing.
Carr’s experiment in defamiliarisation is occasionally improbable, but mostly it’s as suggestive and powerful as it is irreverent and unsettling.