UC Follies brings Agamennon to the stage at the University of Toronto
The show is produced outside — so bring a warm jacket — in the University College Quadrangle on the University of Toronto campus. I am familiar with the campus so I knew exactly where University College was, but was surprised to find no signs outside directing us to the entrance, or indicating there was a play going on at all. I’m used to accessing the Quandrangle via the building, but all the doors are locked at night. There weren’t any signs visible looking down the west side of the building, and it was only in the alley out back that we finally found signs leading us to the west gate — which we had been peering at earlier with no indication that it was the entrance to the venue that night.
Another oddly off-putting but hilarious aspect was that the programs had different prices listed for “students” and “adults” — as if adults could never be university students. (In fact, most university undergrads are legally adults, without even making into account mature students/grad students.)
Agamemnon is a well-known story, it being one of the oldest plays in existence (as the first installment of the Orestes trilogy) and is fairly straightforward — the titular character returns home from vanquishing Troy to a seemingly devoted wife, Clytemnestra who has actually been planning to murder him. She stabs him three times, offstage but communicated to us by the prophet Cassandra, saddled with a curse to never be believed. Cassandra accepts that her fate is to be killed now too and goes in the house, Clytemnestra comes out covered in blood, Agamemnon and Cassandra are now both dead, the end (with a lot of backstory and poetry along the way.)
The UC Follies version claims to be feminist and that is achieved mainly by a) having an all-female chorus and b) omitting the original aspect that Clytemnestra was also having an affair with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s sworn enemy (although this could also be a fact of the Ted Hughes translation, though my brief research indicates that Aegisthus is still in Hughes’version.) Removing this aspect leaves Clytemnestra’s motivation as something sympathetic to a feminist audience: Agamemnon has sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the gods to help him get to Troy.
The show includes a lot of stylized movement which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. For example, an oft-repeated gesture of prayer/respect the gods made total sense, but a scene where the chorus was passing around an invisible ball was literally something I did as an exercise in first year theatre school and seemed to have no relevance to the scene of Agamemnon’s imminent return.
The portrayal of Clytemnestra as a strong, smart and strong character was the show’s biggest strength and kudos for that to both actor Elizabeth Der and director Dorcas Chiu. A good half of the chorus performers were skilled, as was Cassandra, played by Sadie Graham.
The design of the show, by Julie Howman, was admirable. Despite the pitfalls of a muddy ground, the backdrop of the grand old Building of University College as the House of Argo, lit by candles, was perfect.
- Agamemnon by UC Follies is playing until September 26 in the University College Quadrangle, 15 King’s College Circle (go down the west side)
- Showtime is at 8:30
- Tickets are $10 for students, $15 adults (general)
- Purchase tickets online or at the door
Photo provided by the company