Gerard McLarnon has been writing plays for 40 years, yet this is his first world premiere since 1980, and his first full-scale London production. This cannot be because he is a "difficult" writer. Yes, Victory Morning's first act is a kind of interpolation into the events of the Oresteia, after which it switches to a kangaroo-court held by a Greek partisan cell in the last days of Nazi occupation. And yes, it's concerned with a Big Theme, but one of the more trite Big Themes, namely can we ever end the killing? As Electra in ancient Mycenae speaks of her determination to "kill killing", so her 1944 counterpart Aliki admits the guilt of a traitorous informer but refuses to condemn him to death as Resistance laws require. It's not a fresh subject, nor does McLarnon's take on it offer any new insights. Still, he has fashioned a strong linear narrative structure (leaving aside that three-millennium leap), and his lines throb with portentousness as seldom as they can in the circumstances.
Jacob Murray's production for Allende Theatre Company fails to lift the play out of the undistinguished bracket. McLarnon uses the classical scene as a means of having his characters discuss metaphysical issues without becoming unbearably stilted, but the poetry of Greek tragedy – like improvisational comedy – almost invariably grates in performance unless done terribly well, and Murray's company don't come up to the mark. Where Heather Bleasdale and Tilly Tremayne get away with even quite "plonking" lines in the 1944 scenes, these are almost exact repetitions of lines which the same actresses have earlier failed to pull off as Electra and Clytemnestra. The company are not bad actors by any means, they just aren't good enough to make their material work.
Furthermore, McLarnon is an Irish playwright, and it's hard to believe that after four decades of writing he let the occasional Ulster turn of phrase slip into his script by accident. For the Greek occupation, read the Troubles. It's a novel and intelligent twist on the is-there-no-end-to-it play, but once you spot the men inside, this big wooden horse seems less wondrous than ever.
Written for the London Evening Standard.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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