Shadows of Troy brings to Oxford brand new adaptions of Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides and Ajax by Sophocles rolled into one epic theatrical experience.
It commences with the Euripides. As Greek ships wait to sail over the sea to storm Troy, Kalchas the seer augurs that the winds will arrive only if Iphigenia, the general’s (Agamemnon’s) daughter, is sacrificed. The soldiers, hungry to fight, loom and leer in the shadows behind Agamemnon as he agonizes over his options. Two choices are presented to him just as we, ingeniously, are provided with two possible perspectives to this conundrum: on the one hand serve one’s people or favour the elite, on the other give in to the populist mob or save a life. In Ajax, the second half, characters lose their heads by blade and brain as the hopelessness of war becomes clear.
Tom Allen brings all the angst needed to Agamemnon. His interactions with Alex Marks’ Menelaus was rewarding to watch. They present a gripping display of fraternal rivalry. Maddy Page plays the tragic loyalty of Iphigenia with much pathos, and Katie Friedli Walton as Klytemnestra touchingly portrays a woman wracked with quiet grief as she negotiates the implosion of her family. One can see that of the nine-strong chorus any could also have taken the lead roles from their captivating storytelling which allows the poetry in their words to sing, albeit more akin to a dirge than a paean. Truly, the chorus make a racket. In the best possible way. Speaking in polyphonic disharmony in opposition to their military-precision movement.
Chapeau bas to Harry Berry and Jamie Murphy who translated and wrote these two stories respectively. The disquieting, visceral dialogue deals in the all-too-tangible presence of death in all its gristle and gore: the semantic slippage of Atreus evoking atria; the slipperiness of blood and mud; the buzz of flies (as Iphigenia says to Agamemnon, “The violence is the point of it all, isn’t it?”). Against the soundscape and visions of bloodshed are silent witnesses; the monolithic pillars designed by Rowan Ireland which look as cold and unyielding as the violence acted out in front of them.
A special mention must also go to costume designer Oliver Nico for the spartan tunics and flowing dresses which capture the simple beauty of the language spoken by those wearing them. For despite the script being adorned in the grandiosity of warfare and the gods, and the frequent mention of blood and guts as was the wont of Greek playwrights, grounding the discourse in demotic speech encourages the audience’s sympathies towards characters otherwise burdened with some very domestic dilemmas. Shadows of Troy catches the sails of the imagination and soars.
Shadows of Troy is at the Oxford Playhouse until 15th February