Compagnie Simone Rist’s production of Iphigenia in Tauris is a two hour French adaptation of Euripides’s classic tragedy by JW Von Goethe.
Iphigenia, saved from sacrifice by Goddess Diana, is now captive in the country of Tauris. She has become the Goddess’s priestess. As such, she is expected to organise human sacrifices for all newcomers. But her kind influence has convinced King Thoas to cease the cruel custom. Infatuated with Iphigenia, Thoas proposes to her but, as she refuses, sacrifices are re-established. When two foreigners, Orestes and Pylades, arrive in Tauris, they are captured to be sacrificed.
The play begins with Iphigenia kneeling at the feet of Goddess Diana’s statue. The light is red and announces emotions to come. The stage remains bare although the scenes, with only a bench and a statue for props. Actors dress in contemporary clothes.
Once the audience accepts the theatrical setting, it can fully enter the dramatic and poetic atmosphere of the text. This trick actually allows modernity and intimate actions. It creates an opportunity for actors to commit entirely to their intense role.
Lights and music become part of the text, accompanying the emotional evolution of the characters. Actions unravel with the words. The convincing interpretation shows complexity and contradiction in feelings, replacing the lack of stage props.
Mythology here is a pretext to raise confrontational contemporary issues. It depicts a woman’s suffering in exile, and her need for emancipation from a man’s world. In her desperate quest for equality and humanity over barbarism, Iphigenia is denouncing hate for foreigners as well as cruel customs. A special mention to Elisabeth Duda, whose performance communicates force and fragility in a complex role, especially in relation to her moral dilemma towards the end. She occupies the bare stage with her charisma, speaking lines with precision and conviction.
However, for people who are not familiar with mythology and French language, the small screen with occasional subtitles may be difficult to follow and the lack of language subtleties frustrating. Two hours may be strenuous even though family relationships as well as the origins of the issues are regularly repeated, and despite the understandable and compelling intensity of acting.