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Girl On An Altar by Marina Carr at Kiln Theatre

Riveting, painful and sumptuous, playwright Marina Carr dares improve on Aeschylus and succeeds – with this production rendered further triumphant thanks to Annabelle Comyn’s direction and a flawlessly magnetic and commanding cast performing on a magnificent set by Tom Piper.

David Walmsley (Agamemnon). by Peter Searle.
David Walmsley (Agamemnon). by Peter Searle.

Of course, the story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia is tragic and haunting, but Carr takes us to the ‘domestic matter’ – as her Agamemnon (David Walmsley) barks when Clytemnestra’s (Eileen Walsh) father, Tyndareus (Jim Findley) tries to intervene – at the heart of these multi-generational dramas of defiance of godliness and consequences. In Carr’s telling, we are rapidly connected to a much more familiar form of hubris: ambition for status, greed for wealth and the appetites of an unsatisfied masculine ego.

So taut is the writing and pitch-perfect are the leads, Eileen Walsh as Clytemnestra and David Walmsley as Agamemnon, that it is momentarily possible to shift in sympathy towards the brutal king as he explains his unthinkable crime, before he hardens into the self-pitying, self-justifying domestic abuser tyrant we recognise. With his sinuous physicality, Walmsley absolutely occupies the role of the hyper-masculine, tribal lord who – so that he could lead the tribes to pillage Troy – murders his own daughter to ‘shift the winds’. Walsh takes the role of the bereaved and tormented mother and enacts it with the range, nuance and even humour you’d expect only in the most accomplished actors. Like a multi-octave soprano delivering a Puccini aria that results in goosebumps, Walsh uses her voice, presence and timing to devasting impact. As we behold the duet of love, fury, grief, betrayal and vengeance between them, Carr’s brilliance is that she has constructed the complex toxicity of a modern doomed relationship without crow-baring in any ‘re-imaginings’. She locates the central tragedy of the Oresteia and, with perfect economy of language and story, threads it with suspense that reaches our modern perceptions but applies no gimmicks. As an audience, we are mainlining pharmaceutical-grade Greek tragedy thanks to Carr’s deft storytelling and dialogue.

The central tension is amplified with the king and queen’s respective lovers and rivals: Cassandra (Nina Bowers), called ‘the little Prophetess’ by Agamemnon in a nice twist on her role as the oracle, and Aegisthus (Daon Broni). Along with Kate Stanley Brennan as slave Cilissa, we are given multiple viewpoints and complexity as the foretold tragedy approaches. In harmony with the leads, the supporting cast are similarly impressive performers.

Comyn’s production of Carr’s new masterpiece surpasses such accomplishments as Ivo van Hove’s 2015 production of Anne Carson’s translation of Antigone or Polly Findlay’s 2012 production of the same Sophoclean drama for the National that starred Christopher Eccleston. Intensely tragic and suspenseful, Girl on an Altar is brilliantly and relentlessly dramatic: a stunning and important act of contemporary theatre.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

Clytemnestra’s world is torn apart when her husband, Agamemnon, sacrifices their daughter for the sake of war. Ten years on from this unthinkable tragedy, the couple are reunited. What follows is a dangerous battle of love, grief and power.

Marina Carr’s (Blood Wedding, By the Bog of Cats) new re-telling of the infamous Greek myth brings Clytemnestra’s story to the forefront and asks is it possible to forgive the unforgiveable?

Cast: Nina Bowers (Cassandra), Daon Broni (Aegisthus), Jim Findley (Tyndareus), Kate Stanley Brennan (Cilissa), David Walmsley (Agamemnon) and Eileen Walsh (Clytemnestra)

Director Annabelle Comyn; Designer Tom Piper; Lighting Designer Amy Mae; Composer and Sound Designer Philip Stewart; Video Designer Will Duke; Casting Director Julia Horan CDG; Movement Director and Intimacy Director Ingrid Mackinnon; Voice & Dialect Coach Daniele Lydon; Costume Supervisor Isobel Pellow; Assistant Director Jessica Mensah

Kiln Theatre
269 Kilburn High Road, London, UK, NW6 7JR
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
19 May – 25 June 2022

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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