The promotion material for Persians urged us to "See '300' from the other side..." It is a passionate story of a proud people, and was delivered with the respect and magnitude required to tell the tale of a dark period in the history of the Empire.
The play begins when the audience enters to find hundreds of tiny green toy soldiers lined up in rows. They cover the performance space so densely that at first glance, it looks like grass. The women sit at the edges adding men to the "battalion", symbolically representing their husbands, sons and fathers; their gift to the furthering of the Empire.
The Greek tragedy by the famous playwright Aeschylus was first produced in 472 BCE and is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre. Persians takes place in Susa, Iran, which at the time was one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. It opens with a chorus of old men of Susa, in this production represented by a single female (Helen Angell). Once she had introduced herself as a group of men, the convention was set and accepted from that point on. The traditional "Greek chorus" of women is played by Lynsey Trench, Megan Moir, Ellen O'Connor and Laura Hopwood. The pride and anticipated glory with which they open the play is the only moment we see them not wracked with grief. King Xerxes' Mother, Queen Atossa, (Christie Sistrunk) then enters and tells the chorus of her dream of foreboding doom for the army. The action they decide upon is to make gifts to appease the gods in the hope it may not come true. This theme of divine intervention and divine retribution is a common one in Aeschylus's plays. Before they have time to act, a messenger (Austin Castiglione) arrives confirming her worst fears. He offers a graphic description of the Battle of Salamis which was punctuated by the cast beginning destruction of the army of toy soldiers. His speech lists, among a great many other things, the names of the Persian generals who have been killed. Despite efforts to make the delivery physically creative, this gets a bit wordy and it's easy to lose focus. He does reveal a major detail though, that Xerxes had escaped and is returning.
The next step is for Queen Atossa to go to the tomb of her dead husband Dareius (Maitland Schnaars) and ask the chorus to summon his ghost. On learning of the Persian defeat, Dareius condemns his son's decision to invade Greece. Before departing, Dareius delivers what I found to be, a profound instruction, and that is to delight in the pleasures of this life: "Your wealth is worthless in the underworld".
When Xerxes (Leon Osborn) finally arrives, he and the chorus physically and vocally lament the enormity of Persia's defeat.
This epic story is accompanied by music provided by The Men From Another Place and Adam Burgess. The instrumentation is both sophisticated and rustic and provides a filmic ambience throughout.
This production, similarly to the Persian Empire, had some lofty goals, as iterated in the program notes by Director Andrew Hale. Despite the depressive nature of the story and the heaviness of the text, the cast and creative team can be commended on this reproduction of an ancient Greek classic.
Happy Dagger in association with Little y Theatre present
by Aeschylus | translated by Aaron Poochigian
Venue: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts | 51 James St, Northbridge WA
Dates: February 14 - 16, 18 & 19, 2012
Bookings: www.pica.org.au | www.fringeworld.com.au | (08) 9227 7005