Watching Euripides “Iphigenia at Aulis” leaves one in no doubt of the immorality of military conflict, how it corrupts and deprives a people, destroying their humanity. Euripides makes clear that the call for war creates its own momentum and can quickly plunge a whole nation towards disaster - a disaster in which the young are sacrificed to save the honour of a few.
Agamemnon, commander of the Greek army, has gathered his soldiers to attack Troy, but the winds are not favourable and prevent him sailing his armada across the Agean Sea. His troops grow increasingly restless at this delay and so when the high priest demands the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis for more favourable conditions, he reluctantly agrees. Agamemnon summons his wife Clytemnestra to bring their daughter to Aulis on the pretext that she is to be married to the Greek hero Achilles. Clytemnestra arrives, expecting a celebration only to find her pusillanimous husband preparing to brandish a knife with which to slit open the throat of his sacrificial daughter.
Katie Mitchell’s production begins with Agamemnon walking in a darkened room, exclaiming “shit” each time he bumps into a piece of furniture. He is a man not in charge of his destiny, but one fumbling blindly towards his fate. Ben Daniel’s Agamemnon oscillates between believing that he is acting from his own autonomy towards accepting that he is a pawn trapped by circumstances.
Clytemnestra, like any mother wishes to save her daughter from the vain glorious ambitions of Agamemnon. She arrives at Aulis with twenty-eight suitcases, her daughter’s bridal dress and flowers for the royal wedding ceremony. These representations of a mother’s hopeful expectations for a daughter’s future happiness, are later used to barricade the door, in a futile attempt to prevent Iphigenia being forcefully taken to the alter of sacrifice. Kate Duchene’s Clytemnestra metamorphosis’s from august Queen to fierce she-wolf, determined to protect her cub from being consumed by the gods of war.
Achilles (Justin Salinger), the great hero of Greek myth, is portrayed as a conceited glory seeker, who is more interested in his reputation and honour amongst the soldiers than in such noble ideals as justice. When he does half-heartedly offer to protect Iphigenia, it is to defend his own honour, rather than to save the life of an innocent girl.
Hattie Morahan’s portrayal of Iphigenia, captures the full horror, learning of her father’s plan to sacrifice her, she stands in stunned silence, her face a sickening pale white remains petrified like a death mask. Recovering, she berates her father, before finally accepting her fate and delivering a cold, unsettling speech, in which she offers her virginal body for the fatherland, and calls upon the Greeks to sack Troy in her name.
The chorus of curious Chalcian women flutter nervously around the stage like a flock of frightened birds, every now and then music blares out from a speaker on a wall, and the woman nervously waltz with imaginary partners, bumping into furniture and dropping their handbags. The imagery this brought to my mind was of mortals forced to dance to the music of the gods, the gods, in this case being those that lurk in the collective human ego, the god’s of pride, hatred, and vain ambition.
Katie Mitchell’s powerful production is gripping drama, which assisted by Don Taylor’s spirited translation, brings this Greek drama alive for a modern audience.