If you believe some of the papers, the world has gone Greek drama mad. That's surely overstating the case, given that in the current climate, most people would think that Euripides is a Greek midfielder.
But with versions of Antigone and Ion already being performed, and now this, Don Taylor's translation of Euripides' last masterpiece, there is a sense that there is a hunger for these works.
Of course, when you take a play whose entire plot revolves around a war against a middle-eastern country, waged (for spurious reasons) by a western power, one would have to be blind not to see the contemporary parallels.
But Taylor's version overstates the case. He takes every opportunity to drop in a Gulf War reference; it's a bit like being beaten over the head with the complete works of Michael Moore. Surely the audience could have been credited with a little more intelligence? The play was originally written to draw Athenians' attention to the state of their own contemporary war. I doubt if they needed the parallels spelled out so graphically.
Taylor thinks that audiences respond to everyday language, so the poetry is kept to a minimum. That's fine in theory, but lines such as "Calchas is threatening to go public" sounds horrible - this is Greek drama as written by spin doctors.
Hildegard Bechtler has devised an impressive set and there's some effective lighting from Chris Davey but Katie Mitchell's direction disappoints. There's rather heavy use of on-stage mikes (an 'in' effect this year), leading to some words being lost, and there are some unnecessary slo-mo movements.
The chorus is represented by seven women, who flap and fuss and provide a comic touch that seems oddly out of place. At the climax of the play, when Iphigenia prepares herself for sacrifice and is garlanded with flowers, she is serenaded by some of the chorus singing “All things bright and beautiful”, while the rest pour water from watering can over here. It provides a somewhat surreal touch to what should be a dramatic moment.
What does rescue the production is a touching performance by Hattie Morahan as the unfortunate Iphigenia, and an even better one by Kate Duchene as the wronged mother, Clytemnestra. She superbly conveys the hurt of a bereft mother and, at the same time, one sees glimpses of the rage that will drive her terrible revenge. Justin Salinger's camp Achilles is a real bonus, captures the egocentrism of this Greek superhero. But Ben Daniels' Agamemnon disappoints, not really capturing the anguish of a father who must sacrifice his daughter or the weakness of a commander in thrall to his troops.
Ultimately, this works because it's such a powerful story. The image of an innocent child being sacrificed by a father is a recurrent myth and never loses its ability to move, but this could have been much better.
- Maxwell Cooter