“This is the script. It’s what I’m meant to say,” explains Agamemnon (Brian Doherty) before he sacrifices Polyxena (Zara Devlin) in exchange of some wind.
Marina Carr’s intriguing response to Euripides’ tragedy is possessed by the question of what people should, did and might have said.
To this end, Carr has the characters continually report their actions and speech as well as those of the other characters. So, for example, Hecuba (Aislin McGuckin) says with reference to Cassandra (Martha Breen): “Anyway, she says, doesn’t matter. I’m going to have a mad passionate affair with the barbarian king.”
In Lynne Parker’s production for Rough Magic, the actors at no point perform what is being described. Instead, they stand face-to-face; all the wailing and slaughtering is made up only from words.
It’s an inversion of the old ‘show don’t tell’ rule and it works alarmingly well in drawing attention to how ancient stories are nothing but reportage, an elaborate series of ‘he said, she said’.
The technique is particularly effective when McGuckin’s proud, broken and lonely Hecuba goes to bed with Doherty’s agnostic and exhausted Agamemnon. The lack of performed action heightens the tension of an erotic encounter half-based on hatred.
Parker’s staging can at times feel static and cold; the set’s assortment of chairs, tables and acrobatic straps are under-used, and they distractingly clutter the space. But despite some slightly frustrating aspects in the staging, it’s still a crackling piece of writing.