Birkin triumphs as victim of a timeless war story

First Night: Women of Troy The Olivier Theatre

From heavy breathing to heavy acting: those who know Jane Birkin solely through all that sub-orgasmic gasping on Je t'aime... moi non plus can now get a crash career update on her at the National Theatre.

In Annie Castledine's graphic, frequently affecting production of Women of Troy, she plays Andromache, widow of Hector and one of the group of women waiting to be parcelled out to the conquering Greek leaders and shipped off to slavery.

She's first seen trundled in on a baggage trolley and draped as though she were a mere spoil of war. Our last glimpse is of her being carted off up the Olivier's central aisle, her hand forked out in traumatised maternal love to the baby son now in the clutches of the soldier who will despatch him to his execution. In between, with her fragile ballet dancer beauty and pained gravity, Birkin is a haunting presence. If the voice is frankly inadequate, the context very nearly makes a virtue of the deficiency; the strained, proper tones she talks in have the cut-off, convert-like quality of someone cauterized by an excess of horror.

Euripides' searing look at war from the point of view of the vanquished was first performed two and a half thousand years ago but it knew then that it was for all time. Prophesying the iconic status to which she and her fellow victims will be elevated, Hecuba asks (in this new Kenneth McLeish translation): "Why did [the gods] do this, uproot the world/ To make a myth of us."

Castledine's production fuses ancient myth with modern reality by setting the play in a vast, bombed out contemporary stadium that is also evocative of a Greek amphitheatre.

The casting is often against type - successful in the case of Rosemary Harris's very moving Hecuba who is refinement at bay rather than that toughened redoubtability; more controversial in the case of Janie Dee who plays Helen of Troy as a suburbanite Texan minx in the Marilyn Monro dress from the Seven Year Itch. She gets across Helen's barefaced self- justifying cheek, but it's hard to believe this femme could ever have been fatale.

Paul Taylor

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea