The word play’s the thing

From left, Iphigenia (with baby Orestes), Clytemnestra and the Chorus  from The Tragedy of Euripides'Picture: Glenn Green
From left, Iphigenia (with baby Orestes), Clytemnestra and the Chorus from The Tragedy of Euripides'Picture: Glenn Green
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The Tragedy of Euripides 
The Rose Company, The Castle, Lancaster

It was good to see Lady Jane Lumley’s 16th century translation of Euripides’s Iphigenia revived, to a full house, in the Nice Café Bar at Lancaster Castle last week.

The all-female production by Lancaster-based Rose Company is now sharper and more assured than at its première last back end, and has gained in depth and intensity accordingly.

What struck me this time was the simplicity of the language in this new edition by Professor Alison Findlay of Lancaster University.

Its prose reads more easily than Shakespeare’s verse or prose, and the sentences are beautifully measured. It was interesting to hear forms like ‘willinger’ (more willing – why has that dropped out of use?), and ‘easlier’ (more easily). ‘Shamefastness’ is more evocative than the banal ‘propriety’ or ‘modesty’.

Director Emma Rucastle used the close, in-the-round playing space to good effect, bringing the personal dilemmas of the protagonists more intimately to the audience.

Costume added to the overall visual impact. All the cast, save Queen Clytemnestra (Aliki Chapple) and Iphigenia (Catherine Bateman), were in black, and the Chorus (Christine Burn, Beth Cortese and Marian Cox) was distinguished by the adroit use of dark netting.

KingAgamemnon(Ruthh Grsgson), his brother Memelaus (Helen Katamba), the war hero Achilles (Elle Lund) and Senex, the aged family servant (Alison Findlay), were differentiated by minimal additions to the black, whileb Clytemnestra wore a plain green dress.

The heroine, however, stood out: younger than the rest of the cast, she wore a striking, bright red dress highlighted by the white swaddlings of her baby brother, Orestes. The suggestions of tragic blood and white purity were fine visual signifiers of her central tragic rôle.

The revival has also toured to Preston, Salford and Liverpool, and further outings are under consideration, not least to the Lumley family’s ancestral home, Lumley Castle, near Durham.

The Rose Company is a welcome newcomer to Lancaster’s flourishing arts scene and, after their excellent first show, we can look forward to more exciting dramatic and literary ventures from them.

Michael Nunn