Iphigenia, meaning strong-born or ‘she who causes birth of strong offspring’, is depicted in Iphigenia in Orem, one of the one-act plays presented in Neil Labute’s Bash. And in terms of the story, as one of the many offspring of Iphigenia’s myth, this is indeed strong. It tells the tale of a businessman who at first seems well-adjusted and formidable, only to be weakened by a confession of guilt to the murder of his infant. The ensuing monologue tries to give justification, or a logical rationale, for his actions. It is, in the ancient Greek sensibility, as tragic as it gets.
Gwydion Rhys and Stacey Daly
Gwydion Rhys and Stacey Daly
The other fable, presented by the company in Chapter’s Seligman Theatre, is Medea Redux. This draws on the story how Jason (of Argonauts fame) leaves his wife Medea and how she calmly and successfully exacts her revenge by killing their children. Both these stories are given a distinctly contemporary make over, with all textual gaps not always successfully being bridged. Consequently, the script is left with many clichés running through it, particular with the Medea story. That said both stories remain intact for the most part.
The script, on the night, was the only real let down. The direction, by Chris Durnall, was thoughtful and measured. Having the two characters face one another and serve as each others listeners made a strange kind of sense and opened up some wonderful ambiguities.
Angharad Matthews’ minimalistic set design helps in the obscuring any fixed didactic message. Sometimes it feels like an interrogation, sometimes it likes a confession but it is always testimonial. This is heightened by the small physical boxes the characters are confined to, which is outlined by red tape stuck to the floor. One personal niggle I have with the design is the naked light bulbs. They seem to be everywhere now – and they risk losing any meaning for the regular theatre goer. This of course is a little harsh in the context of a single production but something perhaps designers could look out for.
Stacey Daly gives a fine performance as the ‘woman’. Her aesthetic is more enigmatic than her vernacular, which is that of a confused young woman in an increasingly desperate. Daly is excellent in making these incongruent themes makes sense against one another; it provides a lot of theatrical discomfort in the audience.
Gwydion Rhys, who you may remember from his stunning performance as Alan Turing in To Kill a Machine, does not disappoint as the ‘man’. He manages a wonderfully subtle, but inevitable, diminishing of his character with great skill and control.
When these two characters meet at the end and cross their respective boundaries set out on stage the play takes on a physical dimension that is both interesting to look at, and deeply emotional. Their embrace and subsequent struggle is emblematic of the tensions within the whole play.
This production of Bash has almost everything right, the acting, the direction, the simple set, even the story was spot on. It was let down a little, however, by one key element: the script.
Chapter Arts Centre, until July 2nd