CASSANDRA | London, Omnibus Theatre

Words like “timely” and “an event” get bandied around in theatre, but that’s exactly the right description for this a small-scale, six-actor fringe production that sees the sack of Troy (you know, via that large, wooden horse) through the eyes of bit-player priestess Cassandra (Evie Florence).

So what makes this a theatrical “event”? First published in 1908, Ukraine’s celebrated writer Lesia Ukrainka’s poetic drama has been translated into English for the first time, winning translator Nina Murray the 2021 prize for Ukrainian literature in translation at London’s Ukrainian Institute in London, for her fresh and witty script that still retains a classical grandeur. At a time where we are witnessing cultural genocide in Ukraine, to have such a beloved and vital part of Ukrainian culture shared with the English-speaking world is truly special.

And why “timely”? The story sees Cassandra’s terrifying visions of the future dismissed at every turn — her prophecies are accurate, but unwelcome: this Troy is “sick of experts”, and it’s impossible not to draw allusions between this story and how world leaders similarly dismissed, at first, the idea that Russia could ever invade Ukraine.

Director Helen Eastman throws in casual allusions to the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in the UK, like robing Clytemnestra (Máirín O’Hagan) in conservative blue, as she intones her pronouncement of safety to her estranged husband Agamemnon (Joey Akubeze) like a sort of Teresa May-Liz Truss hybrid, before slaughtering him. The set is modest, but the entire cast is first-rate. A show for all Londoners, not just Ukrainians.

Playing at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, 4 – 16 October 2022.

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