Photos – Gez Xavier Mansfield
It's a tough ask for any leader. Kill your daughter, to appease a goddess. OK, more than a few female offspring may've disappeared in China and India. Infanticide is still the fashion in too many places. But not even the so-called faceless men would countenance that for their queen. But Agamemnon, in Iphigenia in Aulis (ancient Greek tragedian Euripides' last stand), determined to do just that. I mean, his and his armies' prestige was at stake. The greater good, and all that. And, as in the Iliad, Agamemnon and Achilles have a blue over it. 'Not happy, Agamemnon!' Of course, his wife, Clytemnestra, was none too pleased, either.
While all this is going on, the Greek fleet sits on its hulls, in the port of Aulis, in beautiful downtown Beotia. All this, because there wasn't a single diesel mechanic rostered on. Well, no, actually. There were no diesel mechanics. There were no diesels. There was a considerable lack of wind, other than that blowing between A1 and A2. Or A1 and the trouble 'n' strife. The only way to fan the fleet, according to the meteorologist, Calchas, is to suck up to Artemis, the capricious goddess who's holding back the breath the boats require. Like most goddesses, she drives a hard bargain and demands the unthinkable. But the unthinkable becomes something A1 must indeed countenance, otherwise even more tears and blood may be shed, on account of the joint chiefs and those in their commands turning on the general.
Gravas Productions has taken Euripides' rather enduring play (first performed going on 2,500 years ago) and, unfortunately, turned it into something far less than 'you ripper!', if you please. In its inauspicious world premiere at The Reginald (Seymour, downstairs), the less-than-catchy original title is sacrificed, in deference to the goddess Marketing, who's insisted on Trapped in Mykonos. The new name suggests the setting and aesthetic. It's a geographical liberty, that parallels quite a few 'poetic' ones.
We open in a tawdry island bar. It's seen better days. This isn't the sort of place where the glitterati come to play. More a hangout for cheap hookers and fish-and-chip shop entrepreneurs on holiday from Melbourne. Agamemnon's seen better days too. He sports a beer gut, disposal store army surplus camouflage jacket and scoots around in a mobility vehicle. Think Viet vet. He doesn't look like he's commanded an army or navy in quite a while. Maybe some tin soldiers, or a rubber duck.
Nicole Colantoni's adaptation holds, in essence, not inconsiderable promise to reframe a classical tale in a catching, contemporary way, but almost every opportunity is squandered in the clumsy hands of director Antoinette Barbouttis. So much so, it gives new meaning to the classifier 'tragedy'.
The basic problem is you can't have it both ways. Which is to say, as a writer, or director, you have to make a decision. Are we playing it for parody, or pathos? What we have here is an unholy, disintegrated zig-zag of both. The greater worry is it's much of the straight playing that proves funniest: as amateurs are prone to do, we get cliched classical acting, or what so many inexpert actors estimate classical acting to be. The result is unwitting self-parody. Andrew Streel (as Achilles) and Isaro Kayitesi (as Iphigenia) are the only actors who show any real capacity for characterisation or real skills, physically or vocally, as actors. Unfortunately, especially in Steel's case, rampantly anarchic contradictions of the adaptation and equivocation as to whether he's a hero in the Euripidean sense or Mike Myers' (he looks like Bruce Willis, about to save the world from the latest Hollywood catastrophe) make him look foolish. It's no particular fault of his and I expect him and, particularly, Kayitesi, to go onto bigger and certainly much better things.
Apart from these two actors, Tom Bannerman's design is about the only thing that half-works.
Anthony Hunt forces both laughter and tears, which has us laughing in all the wrong places. And the perverse, audacious wittiness of placing him on a mobility scooter is nullified by just how much superfluous scooting he does, as if out to prove himself worthy of the Holden Precision Driving Team, rather than as a convincing Agamemnon. Paul Armstrong, as Menelaus, tries, but doesn't look like he believes his role and who can blame him? Another who struggles with falseness is Jeremy Burtenshaw, who looks downright awkward (as if he'd rather be somewhere else), as do other supporting actors, such as Elly Clapin. Dimity Raftos is histrionic, as Clytemnestra, but fails to pull off anything resembling sincere grief at her daughter's demise. All in all, the play has become a cartoon.
Yes, there are brief moments of comedic success, such as in the matrimonial disharmony between A & C, in which A mutters sarcastically, while C rants. This is a vernacular we understand. Given the bar in which all the action takes place, interpolations of trashy pop songs and skimpy outfits for the 'chorus', it might've worked had Colantoni and Barbouttis stuck to this path. But it's but a brief respite from the otherwise pseudo-classical reading. It's a mindfuck, since all palpable sense of the play, even looking through the most prosaic lens (which would have it as little more than a romantic adventure in an exotic setting), is lost. Agamemnon's dinghies mightn't be, but this production is all at sea, jumping from ship to sinking ship. The switchbacks aren't peripatetic, but merely perplexing.
Trapped in Mykonos? More like trapped in Chippendale, where seventy minutes can be akin to a life sentence. Someone should be sacrificed. But not necessarily Iphigenia. An abomination. A crime against theatre. Just as Agamemnon was hang-the-expense hellbent on leading his troops against Troy to appease his manipulative bro' Menelaus in his obsessive quest for Helen, I'm just as determined to ensure theatre of this quality, or lack thereof, never sees the light of day again.
Gravas Productions presents
TRAPPED IN MYKONOS
(Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides) | adaptation by Nicole Colantoni
Director Antoinette Barbouttis
Venue: Seymour Centre Reginald Theatre
Dates: April 4 – 13, 2013
Tickets: $35 – $25
Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com | 9351 7940