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  • Flora Leask & Lauren Galligan

In the rehearsal room with 'Hekabe': A review

Rating: ****

“The gods have had enough of happy violent men!” cry the chorus of Trojan women, towards the end of the production Hekabe, which can be caught at the Fringe from 15th August to the 20th.

Last week, The Broad were kindly invited along to a sneak preview of the Shakesperimental Fringe show. A retelling of Euripides’ play Hecuba by the talented duo Max Lister, as Director, and Devki Panchmatia, as Assistant Director, this production condenses the Greek tragedy into a Pandora’s box of passionate performances, mesmerising choreography, and excellent writing.

A poignant story of female strength, power, and kinship, Hekabe follows the fallen Queen of Troy as she takes vengeance against the deaths of her children. It mixes poetics and lyricism, a moving and powerful storyline, and an incredible musical composition by Scott Lewin. Lister and Panchmatia were smart in their choice of tragedy – Hekabe, intentionally or not, rides the Barbie wave of female vs. male politics, although it does so subtly, and under the grander parable of all Greek tragedies: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Despite the absence of stage, costume, and lighting in the rehearsal room, the quality of acting and writing throughout Hekabe was enough to completely absorb us from start to finish. Poppy Goad gives a dazzling performance of Polyxena, Hekabe’s daughter, before she is sacrificed in Achilles name. Her portrayl of Polyxena as a strong, brave, and determined woman in the face of violence combines wonderfully with the distraught and ruined Hekabe, performed convincingly and with impressive emotion by Julia Rose Lisa. Lisa, as the lead, conducts a study in loss – loss of family, nation, and status – and the viciousness that this drives her to is apparent in her every physical movement, down to the believable glaze of madness in her eyes. However, there remains a dignity to Hekabe – she still was the Queen of Troy, after all – and Lisa manages to strike the balance between dignity and disbelief as Hekabe is pushed further and further towards tragedy.

There are some moments and details that particularly stood out, including a cleverly choreographed scene of mirror movements as Hekabe lifts herself from the ground as if pulled by external forces, and the artful technique of mirroring illustrates her endurance in the face of tragedy and devastation. Tai Remus Elliot gave an extraordinary performance as antagonist Polymester, portraying fury so convincingly that we felt entirely wrapped up in Polymester’s suffering. The scenes where he and Hekabe are on stage together, surrounded by Hekabe’s women, are in turns darkly ironic and compellingly grotesque.

The brilliance of Lister's and Panchmatia's creative minds shines through the script: the dialogue is tastefully interpreted by Lister, while the chorus interludes between scenes are beautifully adapted by Panchmatia’s poetic talent. These interludes wash one passionate scene away like the tide (a recurring symbol in this adaptation) and allow breathing space while the three actors, who make up the chorus of Trojan women, maintain the play’s momentum with their fluid and graceful choreography, courtesy of Rozalie Andelova.

Overall, this is an incredibly intelligent, creative, and expertly done production. It experiments with form, writing style, and audience engagement and pulls it all off with effortless skill. It was almost surreal to watch the cast pull out of their roles at the end of the performance, having been completely immersed and transported to the fall of Troy. For those who want to spend an hour of catharsis and see a talented group of people tell a beautiful, bloody, story, this play is a must.

Get tickets for Hekabe here!

Follow the production on instagram: @hekabefringe2023


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