Girl on an Altar
Marina Carr has already given us her takes on the classical stories of Hecuba and Phaedra. Now see gives us a new version of that of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra on his return from Troy and the earlier sacrifice of Iphigenia, their daughter, the titular girl on the altar.
That beginning is not so different from what Euripides tells us, but this is very different from the Agamemnon of Aeschylus. This online rehearsed reading reveals a powerful drama and, though in welcoming the audience Kiln Theatre’s director Indhu Rubasingham reveals they only had three days working together, it provokes performances that make one impatient to see it staged.
Agamemnon returns to Mycenae after ten years away at Troy accompanied by Cassandra, the prophetess daughter of Trojan King Priam, enslaved by the conquering Greeks. Clytemnestra's rage at the killing of their daughter still festers but there is no sudden retribution in the bath. Indeed, on catching a glimpse in her warrior husband of the golden young man she first knew, she realises that she still loves him but the confrontation between them seems irreconcilable.
Co-directors Susie McKenna and Rubasingham have kept the staging very simple, the actors widely spaced on chairs around the stage then moving centre and around each other while often addressing the audience, for this is part-retelling and part-dialogue. It is up to the words and the actors to create atmosphere and give life to the drama.
Adjoa Andoh is a passionate Clytemnestra, her energy fuelled by anger, her feelings uncontainable. In contrast, Patrick O’Kane’s Agamemnon, tall and kingly, rarely relaxes control, his face could still be wearing the gold Mycenaean mask that he would have worn for the sacrifice. He carries much more authority than Finbar Lynch’s Aegisthus, who has been Clytemnestra’s lover during Agamemnon’s absence. His presence is a reminder of the conflict between their fathers, brothers who seemed to think nothing of child murder. It is Aegisthus who alerts Clytemnestra’s father, King Tyndareus of Sparta, to her situation. Joseph Mydell makes him more gentle than warlike, but will there be reconciliation?
Ayesha Antoine’s Cassandra seems a little underpowered compared with the leading performances, not as clearly picked up by the microphone perhaps, but Sharon Duncan-Brewster as freed slave Cilissa, carer for the children and a go-between for Clytemnestra and her husband, is luckier and moves easily between stage and camera levels.
This is a fascinating first encounter with an interesting play. At this early point, actors are still grappling with the material, which adds to the sense of it being theatre. It is a reminder of what we are missing when live performance is filtered through technology.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton