by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe translated by Meredith Oakes.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET In rep to 20 December 2011.
2.30pm 3, 17, 20 Dec.
7.45pm 5, 10, 15, 20 Dec.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 November.
It needs close listening, but repays attention.
Latest in time of the three ‘unknown’ European classics in this autumn’s Ustinov season is Goethe’s adaptation of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia being the daughter sacrificed by ancient Greek king Agamemnon so the gods would provide a wind to sail his fleet to Troy.
It was a decision that led to a serious domestic situation when he got home a decade or so later. And Iphigenia makes clear in this play – which supposes her not killed but transported by a goddess to the Scythian town of Tauris (roughly, the Crimea, scene of later conflict) – the violence that would greet Agamemnon on his return was part of a cycle of male slaughter and cruelty among her family going back to her great-grandfather Tantalus.
Male violence surrounds the only woman in this production geographically as well as ancestrally. Appointed high priestess, Iphigenia is responsible for sacrificing Greeks who find their way to Tauris. She has tried evading this, but must now sacrifice two newcomers, one of them, she realises, her brother Orestes, escaping, with his friend Pylades, after his part in the Greek murder-cycle, pursued by divinely-sent Furies.
Something of the eternal feminine drawing ‘us’ ever onward and upward, as Goethe elsewhere defines, Iphigenia certainly represents an advance in civilisation. As the major issues are exposed through dialogue rather than overt action, Laurence Boswell’s production sensibly opts to make the debates and dilemmas clear as possible, and Laura Rees ensures Iphigenia is an intelligent, resourceful woman facing major dilemmas and conflicting demands – as sister, as priestess – rather than a remote, or even slightly grand tragic figure.
This leads to moments of underplaying, a cost for overall clarity. She contrasts the grandstanding of Chris Hunter’s old-belief Thoas, who ends on the ground, hand out either in permission for the Greeks to depart or seeking a contact he is not given.
Adam Jackson-Smith is impressive in the secondary role of Pylades, as he is in The Surprise of Love, while David Fielder brings subtlety to the experienced adviser Arkas, achieving urgency and thoughtfulness in a soft voice with richness in its grave lower-pitch.
Iphigenia: Laura Rees.
Thoas: Christopher Hunter.
Orestes: Tom Mothersdale.
Pylades: Adam Jackson-Smith.
Arkas: David Fielder.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Ti Green.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Composer: Mick Sands.