Love triumphs and so does this epic tale

Tantalus Part 3, Royal Shakespeare Company @ Theatre Royal, Norwich

Tantalus Part 3, Royal Shakespeare Company @ Theatre Royal, Norwich


From Olympus the gods can watch their handiwork – a great city gone, legions of dead and companies of suffering humanity.

Troy's formidable queen, Hecuba, goes mad with grief (Ann Mitchell producing more thunder rolls of chest-note rumblings before Hecuba meets her nemesis). Of such are the great myths of Greece – which in turn mirror life through the ages.

There is little of true love on the agenda. But in this concluding part of the nine-play Tantalus cycle it comes, as love will, from the most unexpected quarters.

Cassandra is the prophetess cursed by the god in that no one will ever believe her.

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By now Alyssa Bresnahan has established her as a coarse-grained girl of equally course-grained, serrated voice, unloved and unloving, with a raw power fired by bitterness and anger.

Agamemnon is the unlucky commander of the Grecian forces against Troy. In Greg Hicks's vivid creation, he is a man filled with inner anguish and remorse, failing always to influence events for the good. When Troy falls, Agamemnon takes Cassandra as his prize, to which she reacts like a spitting cat.

But when the god forsakes her, and she loses her gift as seer, there blossoms between the two a tender love. Under Peter Hall's direction, the scene is one of rare beauty, in which human nakedness is used with a subtle discrimination which is quite exquisite.

Bresnahan and Hicks give the scene a true gentleness and warmth to touch the heart, beginning with the moment when each removes from the other the classical full-masks they have worn thus far. Hers is angled in thorns and framed by rufous hair; his is lined with inner pain, against a long, black unkempt mane. Her mask reveals a girl of beauty with a ravishing smile; his shows a man waking to the joy of life for the first time. It is the defining moment of the evening.

Meanwhile, the monster of part 2, Neoptolemus, is home again and in love with his slave, the Trojan princess Andromache. Love, it seems, can triumph over all, for her lot at first was brutality and violence. Now she is devoted to her lord. Annalee Jefferies' Andromache is beautifully drawn, Robert Petkoff's Neoptolemus is transformed by his own emotions. The gods, it seems, can do anything.

But there is one woman still to get her deserts: Helen herself, who started all the trouble. Again we have Annalee Jefferies, this time all innocence. And is she punished? Again the gods intercede. An unlikely rabbit is pulled out of the hat – and a great epic tale ends with a kind of redemption, which takes us back to where we began.

But not quite. The holiday girls are back on their beach. But there are shadows within the sunshine, a disturbing air of being watched. By the gods on Olympus? In 2001? What rot, that's all just myth, the stuff of story-time...

Copyright Charles Roberts 2001

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