At the far edge of the Rose’s pool that preserves the remains of the original theatre, perches the temple of Diana. Blue and purple lighting reflects in the pool; waves are heard lapping at the shore. This is Iphigenia’s world where she serves as a priestess to the goddess on the island of Tauris, ruled by King Thoas. He loves Iphigenia and respects her wishes, but wants to kill the foreigners who turned up on the coast. She wants to not only save them, but escape with them.
Using rich, imagery-laden language, Goethe has adapted Euripides original tragedy, translated into English by Roy Pascal. The austere, Mediterranean set and rich sound design made this production a soothing but rich sensorial feast that compliments Goethe’s text. Unfortunately, unconnected performances and unvarying delivery from some of the cast who seem to focus more on the sound of their own voices rather than communicating their intentions makes a sleep-inducing affair.
The best work comes from Ben Hale as Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his lifelong “friend” Pylades (Andrew Strafford-Baker). They contribute vibrant performances and excellent chemistry, a welcome respite from the indulgence presented to the audience prior to their entrance. Pylades’ comforting of Orestes as he is tortured by the furies for murdering his mother is the stuff fanfic is made of, it’s that homoerotic and genuinely lovely. Even though their behaviour is rather laddish (they came to Tauris to steal Diana’s statue from her temple), they are charming, passionate and a joy to watch. Their eventual clash with James Barnes’ Thoas is inevitable, but well contrast against Thoas’ steely reserve.
Title role Iphigenia (Suzanne Marie) is a complex character and could even be considered feminist despite the play premiering in 1779. Her reunion with her brother is underplayed, but her longing for her homeland is clear. She eventually uses her manipulation and womanly charms to talk down Thoas from attacking her brother and Pylades, but none of the character’s power comes across in the delivery that hasn’t altered from her opening speech. Marie shows obvious pleasure at speaking Goethe’s words but gives equal weight to most of them, causing much of meaning to be lost. Her pace could have done with being kicked up a few notches in more urgent situations, but her grief for her family was touching.
The staging was an excellent balance of the foreground and the rear of the archaeological site. It was used enough to not be ignored, but not so much that action was lost. The set and lighting from Diana’s temple along the back wall created plenty of atmosphere, even as a backdrop when the action was on the stage. Director Pamela Schermann worked well with designers Gillian Steventon and Petr Vocka to create such an evocative atmosphere. Sound design by Philip Matejtschuk really ties the rest of the design elements together. The constant waves remind on we are by the sea and perfectly suits the large pool that dominates the Rose. A cinematic soundtrack emphasises moments of conflict or suspense, ending in the start of a storm as Thoas relents. The only design letdown is the costumes. They attempt to replicate Greek tunics and robes, but they are obviously altered t-shirts held in with women’s belts and the footwear is painfully modern. Iphigenia’s flowing gown is beautiful though, and suitable to a temple priestess.
It is a play not staged often and one particularly suited for the unique space of the Rose, so it is disappointing that the lead performance let it down. Fortunately two of the supporting actors add life and energy to a beautifully crafted script. This is one of the most effectively staged productions I’ve encountered at the Rose with thoughtful design elements that can easily become the star of the show.
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