Soulpepper presents an intimate adaptation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis in Toronto
We tend to think of Greek mythology as the realm of epic battles and larger-than-life gods but the characters we find in Greek myths can also be used to tell compelling, human-scale stories. Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Aulis is an example of how an outsized conflict between gods and mortals can translate into a gripping family drama. Wedding at Aulis, an adaptation of Euripides’ play by Iranian-Canadian playwright Sina Gilani, is given a new, intimate production by Soulpepper.
Both Euripides’ play and Gilani’s adaptation focus on a story set against the backdrop of the Trojan War where we find Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and commander of the Greek army and their one thousand ships mustered at the port city of Aulis. The Goddess Artemis has ceased the winds they need to set sail to Troy out of spite for Agamemnon after he offended her. According to the seer Calchas, the only way for Agamemnon to appease Artemis is to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia so Agamemnon summons his wife Clytemnestra and their daughter to Aulis under the false pretext that she is to be married to the warrior Achilles.
While Soulpepper describes its production as “immersive” it’s not what I would classify as immersive theatre. There is no interaction between the audience members and the performers, no breaking of the fourth wall, and no immersive environmental elements to the set, unless you count the theatre’s glowing, red emergency exit signs cleverly re-done in pseudo-Greek font.
More accurately, this production is just staged in a blackbox theatre configured for in-the-round seating with only two rows of seats surrounding a central ring. The stage is painted blood red and covered in black mulch on which the actors perform barefoot.
Depending on where you sit you’re sometimes no more than an arms-length away from the actors. The proximity that the intimate staging affords really brings the story down to a human scale; this epic Greek myth essentially becomes a taut family drama.
Stuart Hughes leads the cast as Agamemnon, the king tasked with the impossible choice between his country and his daughter. The intimate staging enables Hughes to make more subtle acting choices that wouldn’t come across in a larger space. His is a quiet, contemplative, and restrained Agamemnon; his weary eyes reflect all the troubles in the world.
Raquel Duffy is a standout as Clytemnestra. Tasked with the bulk of the story’s emotional heavy-lifting; she has a huge presence and her grief fills the room to the point where it’s almost palpable.
Gilani retains some of the standard trappings of Greek dramas: I thought the idea to use the women of Aulis as the Greek chorus was well-executed. The women comment on the proceedings through song while also participating in the dramatic action of the play. Gilani also incorporates the Fates as the play’s only supernatural element. However, I thought their use as a framing device at the beginning and end felt perfunctory and I don’t think they really added anything meaningful to the play.
Overall, Gilani’s script coupled with the intimate staging renders this Greek myth more accessible and humanizes the characters, stripping away the excesses to highlight the interpersonal relationships at the core of the story. Up close, the emotions are heightened and the stakes feel more personal. Wedding at Aulis is well worth a watch if you can still manage to get your hands on one of the few tickets due to the limited number of seats.
- Wedding at Aulis is playing through April 14, 2019 at the Young Centre for the Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, in the Distillery Historic District, Toronto.
- Tickets $38 – $82
- Tickets are available in person at the venue box office, by phone at 416-866-8666 or online at soulpepper.ca.
Photo of Derek Boyes and Stuart Hughes by Cylla von Tiedemann