The politics of sacrifice

Kathryn Kelly, Motherboard Productions: Or Forever Hold Your Peace…

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Motherboard Productions’ Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia) is a barricade-storming ensemble work that reboots the Iphigenia ur-story and Euripides’ classic play as a platform to explore the nature of political leadership, personal sacrifice and war. Motherboard’s collaborative and international process was once again on display in their adaptation of radical New York playwright Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0.

Mee’s howling protest against the foreign policy of George W Bush draws on a mix of chilling and banal texts sourced from Wilfred Owen’s WW1 poetry, the field of ‘killology’ developed by former Colonel Dave Grossman and catering lists for US soldiers. Mee’s taut piece is set within the three days leading up to the ‘fake’ wedding organised to lure Iphigenia to the war front by her ruthless father Agamemnon. American/Australian dramaturg Morgan Rose and Motherboard director Dave Sleswick (see interview) skilfully ‘Australianise’ this premise through Iphigenia’s bridemaids: think Abbott’s daughters drunk at the races, with shoes and fascinators akimbo and you have something of the feel of the work and the colourful, deshabille aesthetic of Jennifer Bismire’s costumes. Peter Cossar’s menacingly besuited Agamemnon opens the show with Mee’s prophetic monologue: “I see that there are acts/ that will set an empire on a course/ that will one day/ bring it to an end.”

The pace and the passion don’t let up from that first powerful moment to the final speech of Iphigenia incandescently delivered by Steph Tandy as she embraces her matrydom: “What would you have me do, mother?/ Stay at home and make a decision/ about the draperies in the bedroom?/ Or get a job in some law firm?/Or do social work?/Or try to preserve the environment?”

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

We witness each of the key characters circling around the deep question at the heart of the work about the nature of public objection: will you speak out? Agamemnon agonises but never reneges on his original calamitous decision to sacrifice his daughter. His wife tries and fails to act. Achilles prevaricates. Only Iphigenia speaks out but she embraces rather than condemns the incomprehensible sacrifice demanded of her.

The cavernous set deepens this idea of political witness as we sit onstage with the performers, looking out over the raked, empty seating banks of La Boite, which are cordoned off by temporary fencing. The performance area is ringed by 12 narrow metal lockers, each as tall as the 16 performers who relentlessly patrol the stage in kaleidoscopic physical routines underpinned by the pounding and ominous soundscape by Dane Alexander. Indeed, when all of the physical and textual elements of the production are utilised, like the final scene where the wedding party at a long table watch Iphigenia die, the show is a tour-de-force, intimate and spectacular. Unfortunately, when it retreats back into movement exclusively, or when Mee’s original text strays too far from Euripides, as in the Bridesmaid sequences, there is a subsequent hollowness, as if this referential form needs all of its elements knitted together for us to experience the full weight of the damning critique.

La Boite Indie & Motherboard Productions wih QPAC, Or Forever Hold Your Peace (The Story of Iphigenia), adapted from Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0, after Euripides, director Dave Sleswick, RoundHouse Theatre, La Boite 12-29 Nov, 2014

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 33

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

23 February 2015