Thanks to resident reporter Stan Moorcroft for the following review!
Four plays over two nights presenting a multi-dimensional tragedy, seen from a variety of angles, exploring fundamental issues of violence, sacrifice, and civic duty, vanity and motherhood. And all of this concerning events that occurred more than 2000 years ago. Nobody could ever accuse the Gate of lacking ambition. That it all works so powerfully is a credit to the cast who manage to fully convey the immediacy and terrible implications of the crisis faced by the primary protagonists, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia.
“I am a good man in a dreadful situation….” The drunken Agamemnon declares in the first of the four plays, Agamemnon.
“Is that ‘the line’ you’ll use?” Clytemnestra, his wife shoots back as she dissects his self-image with home truths about as devastating as home truths come. Indeed, for me, it was the performance of Andrew French as the drunken self-pitying Agamemnon and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Clytemnestra, that provided the core of the two nights’ performances. French, as Agamemnon, a giant presence dominating the stage – though a giant suddenly exposed to the full scale of his own fragility and weakness. Whilst Sharon Duncan-Brewster, whose sassy self-confident Clytemnestra we see suddenly transformed, as she discovers her husband’s true intentions. To descend into cliché, this was going to be a hard act to follow. And so it proved, but I will return to this shortly.
On the second night in Iphigenia, Agamemnon, now played by Anthony Barclay, presents as a far less tortured figure, a brutal wife beater, intent on dominating his family and the wider world. Clytemnestra, Suzie Trayling, now much more fragile, nervy, a woman on the edge, seeking to placate him. Iphigenia, Shannon Tarbet, a moody, sulking anorexic teenager who has come to despise her own mother.
As the Drama plays out however it is Iphigenia who faces, clearly and coldly, the reality of the predicament they now confront, in the process demolishing the pomposity of Achilles, Dwane Walcott, the temporizing of her mother and the hypocrisy of Agamemnon. That the speech Agamemnon then goes on to make to the assembled Athenian Polis:
“And then people of Greece a miracle…”
Sounds as phony as a Hallmark greetings card is in no small part due to the passionate authenticity of Iphigenia’s words that preceded it.
Clytemnestra and Chorus both seek to connect the plays with contemporary life by lifting them firstly from the academic and scholarly, and then from the passivity of ‘spectacle.’ Both of these plays about plays poke and prod and provide stimulus for wider discussion. However, for this spectator, it was the play that was the thing in which my conscience was caught.
It would be seriously remiss of me not to mention Nigel Barrett, as Agamemnon’s singularly unpleasant brother, Menelaus and Louise McMenemy as the ‘only obeying orders,’ Messenger. They both powerfully conveyed the duplicity and treachery into which the protagonists had sunk.
To fully achieve the full impact all four plays need to be seen; two memorable nights, one highly charged drama.