Forget Ancient Greece: this
It’s a rare pleasure to experience a piece of theatre that immerses so completely and with such conviction, both physically and emotionally.
Beginning in the aftermath of a battle that rumbles above our heads in the immersive soil-laden world of the constructed bunker, Agamemnon appears to us as an injured British officer. From the start, this battle-wound becomes a central focus of the production, an aching lull of pain that plagues the protagonist throughout, a point of erratic and agonizing rupture, of acute poignancy whereby we are continuously pulled into and out of moments from both the past and the present as Agamemnon slips in and out of consciousness. Memories in the form of flashbacks are recalled and replayed: a first encounter, a loving embrace, a proposal. Fact slowly seems to mix with fantasy, climaxing in the vision of a tormented Clytemnestra, played by a compelling Bebe Saunders who moves to touch her husband with a tender kiss, then a tender hand that transforms into a stab, violently re-creating and re-animating a wound that becomes painfully manifested on both fronts.
For this Agamemnon the ultimate ‘them and us’ turns out not to be the warring countries of the First World War, but instead the internal conflict of the men on the front line themselves. James Marlowe is captivating as the wounded Agamemnon, his own body a liminal standpoint between the two fronts of home and the trenches. The violence of one front infects another, the bloodshed and chaos of the trenches leaking into the supposed safety of the domestic haven. The trauma of the divided loyalties between one’s family and one’s country come to the fore; what was once a home becomes a battlefield all of its own, a place of bloodshed, loss and betrayal.
Despite its inevitably tragic end the entire play is laced with comedy, from the charming comradery of Sam Donnelly and Marlowe drinking in the trenches to the delightfully cringeworthy puns of Dan Wood’s wonderfully awkward, asthmatic cousin (aka Aegisthus) back in England. At times the two worlds of the soldiers and those left behind become physically entangled. However although the cast often remain on stage together, the shared space — although physically cramped — never feels so. The characters shift in and out of each other’s lives as both fantasy and fact, at times mere illusions of wistful thinking, at others potently solid flesh.
Subtle but incredibly effective sound effects occur throughout, from the simple stamping march of feet and Jonny Sims’ compositions to the haunting melody of a love song. It’s a rare pleasure to experience a piece of theatre that immerses so completely and with such conviction, both physically and emotionally. Aeschylus would be proud.