Theatreworks and a collective of artists present Agamemnon, a contemporary staging of the ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, adapted by prolific Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon for this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival.
If your Greek mythology is a little rusty, Agamemnon was the king of Argos who commanded the Greek army during the Trojan War (after killing his own daughter, Iphigenia, in sacrifice to Artemis so the goddess would allow his ships to sail to Troy). The action of Aeschylus’ play picks up when Agamemnon returns to Argos where his wife Clytemnestra is plotting his murder.
Bringing the story of Agamemnon into modern times presents a rich opportunity to use it to examine a host of contemporary issues, many of which are hinted at in the play and alluded to in director Sarah Kitz’ program notes. The Trojan War translates nicely into the neocolonial wars in the Middle East fought remotely via drones and the devaluing of female life and sacrificing of women brings issues like honour killings or the missing and murdered Aboriginal women to mind. Also, what if we could explore Clytemnestra’s motivations through a feminist lens?
Revenge for the sacrificial killing of their daughter, Iphigenia (Zita Nyarady), is presented as the main motive for Clytemnestra’s (Brigit Wilson) plot to kill Agamemnon (Nigel Shawn Williams). I love the idea that Iphigenia was radicalized into becoming a martyr and somehow made an informed choice in consenting to be sacrificed. But it remained a snippet of a great idea that is only hinted at and I would have liked to see Agamemnon and Clytemnestra debate Iphigenia’s motives in greater depth.
Ultimately, after a great deal of build-up, I found the confrontation between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon unsatisfyingly brief and thought it missed the opportunity to unpack and explore more of the ideas hinted at throughout the play. Billed at 75 minutes, the show actually ran under an hour so there would be ample time to expand this scene in future versions.
Overall, I thought the play struggled to find its tone. Much of the humour in the script comes from juxtaposing the ancient Greek story with the contemporary references; “Oh my God, did you see what Agamemnon just tweeted?” That tone of irreverent humour underlies much of the play, even though it isn’t really a comedy, and undercuts a lot of the conflict and character development. I also found the pacing of the show stilted, the action pulses forward in fits and starts, and as a result I thought the rhythm and flow of the show felt off.
A contemporary Agamemnon is a fascinating concept and the foundations of a great play are there but I don’t think it entirely hits the mark yet and I found this Agamemnon lacking a bit in the focus and clarity of its ideas.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo by Tanja Tiziana