For those who are unaware, Iphigenia in Aulis is a Greek tragedy by Euripides concerning the sacrifice of the princess Iphigenia by her father King Agamemnon (spoiler alert: of Troy-conquering fame). I know the plot of this story rather well now because I have just returned from the Gate Theatre’s production The Iphigenia Quartet, which is the story of Iphigenia told – you guessed it – four times over. Covering themes of betrayal, family, duty and the hopelessness of the human condition, its four parts consist of Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Clytemnestra and Chorus.
Each version of the story has been modernised both visually and verbally for the smartphone generation, with references to a topless Brad Pitt and an industrial aesthetic. Some purists would decry the re-writing of a two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old classic. However, I think Caroline Bird, Lulu Raczka, Suhayla El-Bushra and Chris Thorpe have done an excellent job in creating a piece of theatre that is as accessible to those very familiar with Euripides’s work, as to those who think Euripides the name of a nasty venereal infection.
The acting quality is exceptional from all cast members. Andrew French and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra respectively are impressive, while Anthony Barclay as Agamemnon (and one of the directors) produces a very accomplished performance. Likewise, the set, lighting, sound and directorial departments all seem to be pulling their weight and then some, with the dark and brooding mood of the first piece contrasting nicely with the homely feel of the second, for example.
There is nothing wrong with any of the individual mini-plays in this production – they are quite good, in fact. My problem is that The Iphigenia Quartet is billed as four plays in two parts, the idea being that audience members will watch two plays on one night, and two on the next. To my mind there just isn’t enough to differentiate between the plays to make it worth going to that second night. All of the plays do an excellent job of conveying the story, and I like the idea of examining the events from different angles, but that sort of tactic only just about works in a Tarantino film, let alone a hot and crowded London theatre. If you are interested in Greek theatre this is a great show to see, but in a way The Iphigenia Quartet is a victim of its own efficiency. I don’t need to watch the same story played out four times; it was done well enough the first time.
The Iphigenia Quartet is playing at the Gate Theatre until 21 May. For more information and tickets, see the Gate Theatre website. Photo: Helen Murray