The Iphigenia Quartet
Caroline Bird, Lulu Raczka, Suhayla El-Bushra and Chris Thorpe
Gate, Notting Hill
Nobody could deny that a project intended to portray the story of Euripides's Iphigenia at Aulis from four modern perspectives is ambitious.
The resulting production, viewed in traverse, comes in at three hours (broken into two paired programmes) and will undoubtedly leave most viewers with a considerably better understanding of the Greek myth and its central figures.
Agamemnon by Caroline Bird
The evening gets off to a great start with a stirring, storming depiction directed by Christopher Haydon of Andrew French's warrior Agamemnon trying to justify and escape his terrible destiny. For those that are less than familiar with the story, having offended the goddess Artemis, he finds his troops becalmed as they seek to attack Troy. The only solution offered is the life of his young daughter Iphigenia.
Amid considerable sturm und drang, Agamemnon faces the irony from Nigel Barrett as his cynical brother Menelaus and the fiery ire of his wife. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is quite magnificent in the role of flighty Clytemnestra when she tries to defend their innocent daughter from fatally becoming a pawn of the Gods as the Greeks seek a way to recover Helen from Troy.
Clytemnestra by Lulu Raczka
The other cast, under the direction of Jennifer Tang, divides into two for the second short and rather lifeless play. Anthony Barclay and Susie Trayling portray pair of self-important film directors presenting their treatment of the Iphigenia story.
At the same time, Shannon Tarbet plays the sacrificial lamb and Dwane Walcott Achilles the man to whom she is falsely promised in marriage.
Iphigenia by Suhayla El-Bushra
The same cast takes on an ultra-modern family drama, poring over the material once again and drawing humour from the absurdity of tragedy when viewed in a contemporary setting.
Bitterly warring Mum and Dad try to humour their sulky, anorexic 21st-century teenager over a lunch that she barely touches. Ultimately, the 15-year-old seems headed for an unhappy marriage, although as viewers already realise, her fate is even worse.
On the surface, though, marriage doesn’t seem such a bad prospect since the little lass's beau is a muscular fighter whose small talk sounds suspiciously like that of every British heavyweight boxing champion in living memory.
This presents Shannon Tarbet with a great chance to shine as the brave youngster, while Anthony Barclay is given a powerful speech as her father tries to justify actions that seem hard to comprehend in the 21st-century.
However, it may not be drawn out in the text but some viewers might see parallels with the forced marriages that shout from the tabloid headlines far too regularly in Britain today.
Chorus by Chris Thorpe
The final play sees the return of the first cast, which also includes Louise McMenemy, as an ensemble playing numerous parts as they revolve around the small central stage space.
This is a dazzling, poetic tour-de-force that might not mean that much seen on its own but capitalises on the knowledge gained through the evening.
Chris Thorpe's take on the story is seen through the eyes of the global Everyman. Rather than reportage, they are able to witness every step of the tragedy on their TVs or computer screens.
The littered sweet wrappers and slowly-removed clothing add to the drama and are presumably a representation of behaviour when enjoying soap operas and reality TV to which this version of the story pays homage.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher