Marina Carr is no stranger to Greek tragedy and having reworked the classic tales of Hecuba and Phaedra, her latest offering Girl on an Altar based on King Agamemnon’s turbulent return to his wife Clytemnestra after the sacking of Troy, packs a powerful punch.
Girl on an Altar at the Kiln Theatre is a co-production with Ireland’s National theatre, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which is also the home town of writer, Carr.
The play opens in the Mycenaean port of Aulis where King Agamemnon, has deceptively commanded his wife Clytemnestra to bring their ten year old daughter Iphigenia, under the guise that the child will be married as a part of a power-pact to the great warrior Achilles.
However after killing one of the Goddess Artemis’ sacred stags, Agamemnon is cursed by a lack of winds on the Mediterranean sea. To appease Artemis, King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia, in order to allow his troops to set sail and preserve their honour in the battle against Troy.
Clytemnestra is devastated by the sacrifice of her child, and when Agamemnon returns victoriously to Mycenae ten years later having defeated Troy, despite still being in love with him, she cannot be placated for the slaughter of Iphigenia.
Deliciously soaked with the dark imagery of Greek tragedy, Carr’s contemporary poetic adaptation is easy on the ear and very accessible to a modern audience.
Carr’s post war story is told through the eyes of the women and the losses they have to make. Clytemnestra points out that as well as the slaughter of her own child Iphigenia, to enable the winds to travel to the Trojan war, that after the conflict the daughter of Hecuba, Queen of Troy, Polyxena, was also sacrificed to create favourable gales to get back to Greece. ‘It’s becoming a habit…The blood of spotless girls these new gods want. What is this terrible new pact among men?’
Eileen Walsh makes a fierce Clytemnestra, and is well matched by David Walmsley as an ultramasculine Agamemnon. Nina Bowers is mesmerising as the caged hostage Cassandra, while Kate Stanley Brennan is always compelling as the incisive servant Cilissa.
The piece is slickly directed by Annabelle Comyn, and the huge gates that open onto a cavernous set by Tom Piper really give the sense of ancient majestic grandeur.