La Boite’s latest indie production is as complex and perplexing as its two-option title, Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia), but that’s a good thing.
Inspired by Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0, an adaptation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy, Iphigenia in Aulis, director Dave Sleswick was drawn to the “terrifying correlation between the story and the current state of our local political landscape here in Australia.” Along with dramaturg Morgan Rose, Sleswick has re-invented the play for a contemporary audience, and poses the question of what it means to be a good leader, while exploring the nature of democracy and the power of the people.
Lets go back a couple thousand years to Euripides’ original play where the Greek coalition leader Agamemnon orders troops to set sail for Troy during the Trojan War. However, Agamemnon has offended the goddess Artemis who is withholding the winds. Seriously, you don’t want to go around offending goddesses, all men should know that. They’ll make you do something drastic to make up for it – like sacrifice a daughter.
In Sleswick’s contemporary version, it is not the goddess who is offended and demands the sacrifice, but the troops themselves. In a time when a king or leader is no longer expected to lead the troops to war, it is easy for a leader to send men into battle from afar, knowing there will be bloodshed. But what if the leader must first sacrifice one of his own family? In deed, what if Tony Abbott had to make this decision with one of his own? Would the war go ahead? It seems ludicrous but Sleswick is posing that this is a fair question to ask, given that our leaders are so willing to sacrifice other people’s children to war.
The opening sequence was mesmerising; twenty actors, all marching in-sync towards the audience and then running to the back of the line to keep pressing forward. Although the relentless marching seemed to go on for at least five minutes, (which is a long time in theatre land), it didn’t matter, I was enthralled. The execution of the stylistic choreography was hypnotic. In fact, the choreographed movement throughout heightened the play’s visual and kinaesthetic language. Dane Alexander’s palpable soundscape was intrinsic in developing this language. Usually sound is something that either goes unnoticed (if it’s doing its job right), or acts to complement the lighting and visuals, but Alexander’s work was a real highlight in this piece.
Sleswick’s bold avant guard treatment of the play will polarise audiences, depending on how dear one holds to tradition and reverence to the classics. The juxtaposition of the party scenes (including references to mobile phones, selfies, and other pop culture), anarchy, and the seriousness of war and politics, was jarring and exciting at the same time. Motherboard Productions has certainly made the classics more accessible and engaging to a contemporary audience.
The cast was a mix of emerging and experienced actors, which is always great to see. In the same way that traditional stories are passed down through the generations, it is important to see mentoring on the professional stage.
Janine Watson was superbly gut-wrenching as Clytemnestra; a mother hell-bent on saving her daughter’s life. Rowan Davie was well cast as Achilles, the good looking, good-hearted solider setup as bait to betroth Iphigenia (Steph Tandy). Peter Cossar was suitably authoritative and conflicted as leader and father Agamemnon, although his opening speech was so long l zoned out in parts. This of course was not his fault, but the word ‘multimedia’ popped into my mind while watching (or zoning out).
Erica Field did a superb job as head bridesmaid, keepin’ in real. Ben Warren as Menelaus, warrior and spokesman for the troops, was another strong player in the cast and had a great stage presence. It was also a delight to see some familiar emerging actors faces amongst the cast including Kieran Law and Chris Ferrel who I hope to see more of on our main stage.
The only quibble I have about the piece (apart from the opening speech), is a distracting third-wheel in the dance scene between mother-of-the-bride Clytemnestra and Achilles. Although the cast member provided laughs up the back of the stage, it pulled focus and made light of the serious sub-text that was going on down-stage.
Presented by La Boite Indie and Motherboard Productions with the support of QPAC, Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia), which was initially developed and presented in collaboration with Vena Cava Productions in 2012, will be playing at the Roundhouse Theatre till November 29.