Review of Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris

27/28 November 2015

Iphigeneia in Tauris is one of the least performed of Euripides' plays. After enjoying this production it's very hard to se why. It has an exciting plot, great characters and generates genuine suspense (unusual in Greek drama).

Susan McNaught in the title role I thought was magnificent - she looked the part of the barbarian priestess in her blood-red robe, sang spectacularly and managed to be a commanding presence yet still project vulnerability and pathos. Orestes' part is to be a somewhat wimpy foil to his dynamic sister - but Colin Povey showed he was capable of passion when required. His loyal sidekick Pylades (Robert Seaton) - uniquely in Greek drama given a full speaking role in this play, and a definite character of his own, provided a well-drawn sensible contrast to the emotional and unstable Orestes.

Alison Carcas' herdsman was pure delight - she's a natural storyteller who had us all gripped with her narrative. Mark Adams clearly enjoyed playing Thoas - a villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever: he personified unalloyed nastiness.

The Chorus was central to the success of this production - it was wonderful to hear a tragic Chorus with strophe and antistrophe properly sung, accompanied by music as authentic as one's ever likely to hear - cor anglais and guitar deputising for aulos and kithara. And a proper number too - it's so disappointing when the essential chorus part is reduced to a few tokens, or even a single commentator.

I've only a few minor negatives. I don't think guns work as substitutes for swords and daggers, not in Greek drama, and not in Shakespeare. Even when the weapons look authentic, as they did here, it's difficult to feel the threat from something you know can't really be used in a theatre! The modern dress did work (Thoas' SS style leather coat was superb), but in a non-realistic form of drama like this, it's not necessary to modernise everything. An altar used for regular human sacrifice is impossible to modernise, for example! Why couldn't Thoas have summoned help on his mobile, or called in the helicopters?

The other point is about the chorus. They sounded superb - but they needed to move more. They could as well have been a seated choir; you need the chorus to provide a visual impact as much as a musical one. I presume, though the time necessary to master the music would have made it very hard to choreograph dance as well.

Athens of the North produced a convincing performance of a little-known Greek tragedy. It's very much to their credit that they demonstrated what a brilliantly crafted play it is. Euripides can still hold an audience enthralled. .

AMW, 2016.