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March 16, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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A Brief History of Helen of Troy

Uther Dean

Why was this a play? I mean, it’s a very good play. Erin Banks as Charlotte gives a performance of such power and magnitute that the rest of the cast could have stood on stage dribbling oil from their eyes and it would still have been one of the finest pieces of theatre to strike the stage this year.

Heather O’Carroll’s direction takes the best of Todd Solondz and makes it distinctly her own. Tureiti Nelson’s design is elegant and vibrant.

As executed on the BATS stage this is a fine work. But, the script—while politically wonderful and discovering an amusing poetry with the likes and what-evers of Valley girl speak—has very little innate theatricality in it. It felt to me like a story that would be much better told either onscreen or in prose. Schultz seems to have written Helen for the stage without any real thought as to why it should be there. But, apart from that, this is a work of intense emotion and semiotic thickness, never condescending to either its audience or its characters. Well worth a look.

Fiona McNamara

It’s all about theatricality. Seeing the beautiful and talented Erin Banks, as 15 year-old Charlotte, told she’ll never get anywhere, because she’s not pretty enough couldn’t put more succinctly the overwhelming issue of ‘image’ in a woman’s life.

When Charlotte tries to leave home, her plans are crushed by her father (Matthew Chamberlin) telling her she’ll fail, because she’s “just not very pretty… You’re not like your mom. I’m just telling you—that’s the real world.” This idea is well realised in all aspects of the production. However, while the repetition and extended scenes show just how much the issues of image, losing her mother and pressure to conform pervade all aspects of Charlotte’s life, an edit of the first half could have made it an easier 90 minutes.

The acting is brilliant across the cast. But a special note must be made of Erin Banks and Matthew Chamberlain.

The lighting design guides our understanding when reality and fantasy are blurred, without hindering the powerful ambiguity.

The play deals with issues that pervade the life of any young woman growing up in our culture. As Eleanor Bishop says in her Producer’s note, “issues I often think about as a young woman—why I feel that everything else I do is secondary to my beauty qualifications, why my sisters are so eager to claim rauch culture as the new empowerment…”

Written by Mark Schultz
Directed by Heather O’Carroll
With Erin Banks, Matthew Chamberlain, Ester-Rose Green, Eli Kent, Rowan Bettjeman and Michael Ness
At BATS Theatre,
11–28 March 200

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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