Iphigenia at Aulis

Euripides, translated by Don Taylor
RNT Lyttelton
(2004)

Iphigenia at Aulis poster

Katie Mitchell's modern dress production of Euripides' play about sacrifice and war has been identified as a commentary on recent events in Iraq. While it has undertones of almost any war, the costumes, music and setting put it into that region but during the Second World War.

Don Taylor's modern language translation is played out in a collapsing village hall designed by Hildegard Bechtler. The play is underlit by Chris Davey, indeed at the start unlit, as Agamemnon flounders around in the metaphorical dark.

The designer has her moment of glory, as the heroine is sacrificed offstage to appease the Gods. Iphigenia's mother Clytemnestra is seen battered by gale force winds and torrential rain in an image of devastating despair, seemingly borrowed from Edward Hopper, currently starring at Tate Modern just along the river.

There is a generally grim air of foreboding, exemplified by a seven-strong black-clad chorus of women. Each is constantly on the verge of tears and terrified by the loud crashes that break up the action.

The tale is a familiar one but, in this version, the mythical elements are played "straight" so that having a swan as a mother is the same as having a man as a father.

Cold, indecisive Agamemnon (Ben Daniels) and his excitable brother Menelaus, played by Dominic Rowan, are desperate to retain control of the Greek army, as it seeks to invade Troy and rescue the latter's unfaithful wife, Helen. The Gods insist that in order to do so, Agamemnon, like Abraham, must sacrifice a beloved child.

Enter the two stars of the piece, the teenage Iphigenia and Clytemnestra. The initial joy at the girl's anticipated marriage to Justin Salinger's "Action Man", Achilles, soon turns to anguish as the truth emerges courtesy of an aged retainer, Peter Needham.

Both Kate Duchêne, magnificent as the initially haughty mother and Hattie Morahan, increasingly confident as the ultimately noble daughter, grab the attention. The former does not put a foot wrong as Clytemnestra first wrangles with her husband then begs Achilles to save the innocent virgin.

Iphigenia begins as a young girl but becomes the symbol that, amid spin and treachery, sends the Greek army on its way to a necessary war to protect freedom and fight terrorism. Sound familiar?

Reviewer: Philip Fisher