Euripides’ antiwar play is brought to vivid life in this production that modernises without over-straining for contemporary relevance. Don Taylor’s smooth and never-grating updated translation and Katie Mitchell’s rarely stumbling direction make a very moving domestic tragedy out of the myth of Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter in order to sail safely to Troy.
Set in perhaps the forties, the production brings everyone down to life-size while still finding epic implications and passions in their experience. The chorus are a coachload of tourist women come to gawk at the massed armies of Greece and not above interrupting the principals to demand autographs, while Agamemnon is seen at first as a celebrity politician and Clytemnestra as an efficient and officious lady-who-lunches.
Kate Duchene’s forte as an actress lies in letting us see her character thinking as she speaks and when Clytemnestra discovers her husband’s intentions, both her rage and her abject pleading convey the underlying awareness that she is the only sane person left. And Duchene is even more powerful when the character’s rationality fails and she is driven to wordless expressions of disbelief, rage and despair.
Ben Daniels presents an Agamemnon who has overreached himself and is too small a man for either the military position he has accepted or the moral dilemma he has been thrust into, while Justin Salinger’s Achilles begins as a shallow hero primarily concerned with his public image but lets us see the man rapidly grow. As Iphigenia, Hattie Morahan has little to do through much of the play but look silently terrified, which she does movingly, though her sudden bravery at the end is a little less convincing.
A stage cluttered with chairs, a couple of unexplained slips into slow motion and a very few points where the updating clashes are the only small lapses in a sensitively directed, acted and emotionally overpowering human tragedy.