In celebration of their fifth anniversary, Aulos Productions have reprised two of their previous plays in extended editions: Women of the Mourning Fields and Antigone Na H’éireann. Originally staged in 2015 and 2018, Aulos brought these two plays together for a double bill tour this spring.
Women of the Mourning Fields begins as another play ends where the disembodied voice of the writer/director gives the three actors notes on their performances. This play, which the audience doesn’t see, represents the official history of these women’s lives. History, as the play articulates well, is rarely written by those who actually lived it and women’s accounts, such as Agrippina’s memoirs, are lost or forgotten. Agrippina, known to history as the mother of Emperor Nero, has had enough and so she picks up a pen to forge her own story. Initially shocked by her actions, Octavia and Poppaea, quickly take up the pen to provide their perspective and life stories outside being considered as Nero’s wives. Women of the Mourning Fields aims to subvert the classic female roles presented by literature and show that the women are more complex than simple stereotypes. This is confused, however, by the dummy characters control of the pen, which is chaotic and detracts from the central characters who could have been explored further.
As the women’s play comes to an end, the audience discovers that the writer/director has been spying on them. He decides to update the play with elements from the women’s accounts but nothing else has changed for these women. They speak their truth but the director is only interested in what can be used for his gain. Subjugated once again, these three women will continue to perform every night for eternity. A bleak message to the audience but perhaps an apt analogy for the deathly slow progress of women’s rights throughout history. Barely placated with morsels of their truth and told to be grateful, Women of the Mourning Fields is a thought provoking piece which is brilliantly acted by all involved.
Following this is Antigone Na H’éireann, a modern retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy for a post-brexit era Ireland. In James Beagon’s play the audience are taken to the not so distant future where a hard border in Ireland has stirred up old wounds and reignited violence in Northern Ireland. The play centres on Annie, the daughter of a prominent figure in the IRA during the Troubles whose legacy has since been destroyed. Shadowing Antigone in the Theban original, Annie is driven by her urgent need to bring back honour to her father’s legacy as well as her strong Catholic faith. The beginning of the play has some lighter, humorous moments, which serve as a good balance to the intensity of the subject matter. However, the play takes too long to get to the crux of the action and as such, there are moments that could be made more concise. Unfortunately due to this and the general malaise that Brexit inspires, Antigone Na H’éireann drags on for too long to make it’s point clear to the audience despite the emotional performances of the actors.