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The Iphigenia Quartet at the Gate Theatre – Review

Agamemnon cast photo
Nigel Barrett (Menelaus) and Andrew French (Agamemnon) in Agamemnon

Presented as four plays in two parts, The Iphigenia Quartet offers up Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis, from the perspectives of those affected and surrounded by this heated tale of domestic betrayal.

In the build up to the opening of Caroline Bird’s Agamemnon, a reverberating soundscape echoed through the walls in the confines of the Gate Theatre, raising a heartbeat and introducing the intensity that Christopher Haydon would apply to the first quarter. With each actor fully committed to their role, this piece did not only excel from the echoed power of Andrew French’s Agamemnon or the warrior naivety of Louise McMenemy’s Messenger, but more than that: the characters were fully and solely absorbed and expelled, not only capturing their insecurities, vulnerabilities and – at times – paranoia, but, whilst doing so, managing to perform with an intense – yet disguised – awareness of the audience.

Naturalistic emotions that were gripping from French’s opening breaths (drinking from a petrol can and sitting on the edge of an octagonal, two tiered platform) to the final sound of the roaring wind opened this quartet with a compelling energy that would be challenging to maintain. All this was accompanied with a thoughtful lighting design allowing characters to move in and out of shadows.

Lulu Raczka’s Clytemnestra followed; a physically apathetic adaptation which lost the vehement consistency that could have been achieved through the first part. After being gripped to the action and expression of Agamemnon, the inward focus that Jennifer Tang attempted to gain – through use of a professor (played finely by Susie Trayling) and film director (Americanised by Anthony Barclay) – was perhaps lost upon me; potentially due to the drop in dynamism, or possibly due to an assumption that all the audience would have pre-existing knowledge of the source play. A fair assumption to make, although unfortunately wrong in my case. Luckily, the use of a voiceover to deliver the final monologue, accompanied with a distant war-zone underpinning, brought the action back to a high, ultimately producing an intense climax to the first part.

My delight as the actors in Clytemnestra are given another chance to perform in Suhayla El-Bushra’s Iphegenia; starting off around a family dinner table – which would soon literalise the broken family as it breaks into three – Shannon Tarbet played a vivaciously compelling Iphegenia with Clytemnestra’s controlled nervousness expressed with a maternal dignity by Trayling.

Chris Thorpe’s finale of Chorus was powerfully intelligent; perhaps too intelligent to experience as the evening’s concluding offering, Thorpe’s beautiful arrangements bring the Greek chorus to the modern world, exploring the dangers of human unity and the media frenzy that surrounds celebrity gossip.

Something didn’t click for me with the final section of the quartet; it felt as if Elayce Ismail didn’t know what to do with the space so played it safe; a little individualism within the characters would’ve added an intriguing dimension to Thorpe’s text and provided it with a little more shape. Chorus’ final line, ‘We didn’t even get to see her die’, sparked a laugh which was followed by a well-deserved applause for a fast-paced 160 minutes of action-packed ingenuity.

4 stars

Review by Joseph Winer

One tragedy. Two parts. Four explosive plays.
Agamemnon faces an impossible choice, he is a father commanded by the gods to sacrifice his daughter.  In doing so, he will lose his wife, Clytemnestra and bury his child, Iphigenia. Ever present over his shoulder, the Chorus awaits Iphigenia’s fate.

The Iphigenia Quartet gives you the opportunity to experience this domestic catastrophe from the perspective of each key player.  Witness Clytemnestra grapple with the ultimate betrayal, see Iphigenia boldly accept her fate, watch Agamemnon wrestle with an impossible choice, and experience the Chorus’ powerless observation of this tragedy, unable to look away.

Watch the classic Greek story of Iphigenia at Aulis retold by four of the UK’s most exciting and radical playwrights. The production will be performed as a pair of double bills alternating throughout the run – Agamemnon & Clytemnestra and Iphigenia & Chorus, giving you the chance to see every angle.
You may be willing to die for your beliefs, but who would you kill for them?
Written by Caroline Bird, Suhayla El-Bushra, Lulu Raczka and Chris Thorpe.

23 April – 21 May
Part of Nuclear: A Season about the Family
The Iphigenia Quartet
Gate Theatre
11 Pembridge Road
Notting Hill Gate
London W11 3HQ
http://www.gatetheatre.co.uk

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