IPH...
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Opened 2 March, 1999

Colin Teevan's new version of Euripides' Iphigeneia At Aulis cheekily half-inches the title of Lindsay Anderson's classic public-school revolutionary film. However, the only thing that Iph... and if.... have in common (apart from a driving rhythmic soundtrack) is the broadest notion of a perverted sense of honour in this case, the honour which demands that King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigeneia, in order to obtain favourable winds to carry the Greek fleet to Troy to avenge the abduction of his sister-in-law, Helen.

But Teevan has set out to create a muscular, modern version of the story, remaining most true to the fragments of the composite Greek text which are most probably by Euripides himself; director David Grant is likewise concerned with presenting the story in a form that is contemporary and fresh in both the conventional and the street senses of the latter word. Both achieve their goals sufficiently for this production to be well worth a look, but also fall prey to enough flaws for it to be only a qualified success.

Ultimately, one's verdict is a matter of individual taste. Personally, I am impressed by the no-nonsense skeleton of Teevan's translation and the vigour that Grant's youthful cast brings to its interpretations, but I draw the line at the near-doggerel ("She was not raised a calf for slaughter/She is Agamemnon's daughter") that the writer puts into the mouths of the group of brassy, lippy, adolescent girls, commenting upon the action a sort of Spice Chorus. I also suspect that, whatever Teevan's intellectual justification for using neologisms such as "fameglory" and "crazyhead", he is too self-consciously following the example of Tony Harrison's version of the Oresteia, and that coinages that have blunt force in a northern English mouth sound awkward in the much more forward Ulster accent.

As I say, though, these are personal preferences. On press night, it was noticeable that the warmest audience response came from the more youthful spectators, as teenage cheers punctuated the applause at the end of the 90 minutes. This alone is enough to justify Teevan's and Grant's approach, never mind a clutch of solid central performances played out on Gary McCann's get, whose vast intersecting arcs of steel never let us forget that the blade will ultimately fall on Iphigeneia... and, later still, on Agamemnon himself; the final image, of an icy, unrepentant Klytaimnestra holding the same bright-red knife previously used to sacrifice her daughter, looks forward to the events of the Oresteia itself.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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