Fringe review: 1000 Ships – A Guide to Ancient Womanhood

Feisty and feminist, Helen of Troy lobs some truth bombs about unattainable beauty standards and the problems of being female in both the ancient world and this one. ★★★★

Mar 15, 2023, updated Mar 15, 2023

Helen of Troy may have been the most gorgeous woman in history, but all that male adoration didn’t see her living on easy street. Abducted, given away as a prize, blamed for war, hated by other women – if that’s the kind of treatment in store, who would want to be beautiful? Yet as Gillian English points out in her hilarious ride through the trials and tribulations of the life of Helen of Troy – we all do.

Comedian, actor and storyteller Gillian English.

Beginning with Helen of Troy’s weird birth from an egg – the unfortunate consequence of her mother being “seduced” by a swan – English dishes the dirt on what really went down in the lead-up to the Trojan War. Following Helen’s life, she takes aim at the dodgy decisions of gods and men, untangling the misogyny behind Helen’s claim to fame as the face that launched a thousand ships, with beauty tips thrown in along the way. She has excellent advice on which shoes to wear when faced with abduction by ship.

Irreverent and incredibly well-researched, this show feels like a tribute to the original Fringe ethos –  impressive, quirky and engagingly personal content teamed with simple production values.

Lovers of the work of UK classicist and stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes will find much to appreciate. This set has real Fringe meets Haynes flair, casting a shrewd, modern woman’s eye over this ancient tale.

As much for the novice as the classical scholar, the hour-long monologue is as action-packed as a Trojan horse full of ancient Greeks. Don’t let the strange egg-birth interpretive dance put you off. 1000 Ships has heart, and just like the myths she’s pulling apart, underneath the fabulous storytelling lies a deeper truth. Gillian English puts the sass back in Cassandra – telling it how it is. But this time, we believe her.

1000 Ships: – A Guide to Ancient Womanhood is at The Lark at Gluttony until March 19.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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