A parched tree, an earthy stage floor and the suggestion of a blue sky are all that signify we are in Mediterranean territory. In Classic Stage Ireland’s production of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, in a crisp new version by director Andy Hinds, the focus is very much reserved for the clear delivery of text above all else.
The play opens as Agamemnon (Bates) learns that he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia (Moore) to Artemis in order for the winds to sail his army to Troy. He sends his wife Clytemnestra (Thurman) a letter claiming that their daughter is to be married to Achilles (Heslin), instructing her to bring Iphigenia to him. When she learns the truth of her fate, Agamemon’s beloved daughter beseeches not to be killed, imploring her mother, who asks Achilles for help. Realising the lives of her people are at stake, Iphigenia swaps initial fear for unshakeable courage, and willfully goes to her death.
The most theatrical feature of this production is the six strong female chorus who variously narrate the action, sing, and punctuate the piece with some choreographed movement sequences. They open the performance by walking on stage in a line, and bowing. In ancient productions, the chorus would have worn masks; this would have ruled out the problem of over-personalising the performance as tends to take place here. The actors who are on stage throughout, often silently, strain hard to maintain involved expressions, and this risks over-complicating the performance rather than facilitating the main action as it should. It is perhaps for this reason that contemporary adaptations of Greek theatre sometimes reduce the chorus, often to one performer.
In extended addresses, a directorial choice of note sees different members of the chorus take charge of certain phrases, coming together on select words for emphasis. Often, these moments are complemented by Eamonn Fox’s moody lighting changes and Jen Kirby’s pulsing score. This approach is presumably aimed at adding texture to lengthy speeches, although the arrangement tends to lack musicality, and often resounds as unevenly diced up words.
In period style costume, the actors relay their lines confidently and turn out strong performances. With some, there’s a tendency to convey intense emotion through suddenly shrieking, which is inevitably counter-productive. In primarily trading on clarity of expression rather than a nuanced performance concept, however, the production lacks the soul necessary to draw us closer and connect with us in the present. Iphigenia might well be sacrificed before our eyes, but the dilemma doesn’t quite feel like ours to care about.