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Euripides’ Iphigenia
Sara Nanpéh and Martín Bejarano’s version. Teatro Balbo.
Actors: Dioni Torres, Paco Crespo, M. Á. López-Cepero, Sara Nanpéh, Livia Tena, Gabriel Piñero, Fran Márquez.
Directed by José Pecho.
4 July. La Alcudia Archaeological Park


Review by Virgilio Tortosa

Balbo is an independent theatre company from Cádiz that took its name from the illustrious reformer family from the ancient Roman city of Gades. The company had the honour to open the 2nd Classic Theatre Festival of La Alcudia. To mark the occasion, they staged a version of the tragedy Iphigenia in Aulide in the central space of the Iberian ruins of La Alcudia. Iphigenia was written by Euripides in 409 b.C, and was first staged in 412, one year after the playwright’s death. The story is one of the key elements in Ancient Greek mythology and sets off with the imminent departure of an expedition of Achaeans headed to besiege Troy and take revenge for the kidnapping of Helen of Troy by Paris. However, the wind doesn’t blow for a very long time and the boats cannot depart from the port of Aulide, where the fleet awaits. Meanwhile, Agamemnon, recently appointed commander of the army by the affronted King Menelao, who is also his brother. An oracle then predicts that favourable wind will blow if his daughter Iphigenia is sacrificed to honour Artemis. In the end, Agamemnon gives in to the pressure and calls for his daughter, luring her with the pretext of having her marry Achilles. The story revolves around the figure of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s daughter, but it is the thoughts of the Achaeans’ king and father of Iphigenia that the play focuses on. For what it’s worth. Euripides’ play could have perfectly well been named “Agamemnon”.

During the performance, several technical and professional difficulties made it difficult to follow the plot created by the Greek playwright twenty-five centuries ago. The first obstacle was the stage, located in the main moat of the Iberian ruins. Several grandstands had been set up outside the moat and around the stage area, so the audience and the actors were quite far from each other. This made it more difficult for them to project their voices, even more so if the microphones used to make this task easier did not work well and sometimes caused unpleasant noise, not to speak of how wonderful it would have been for the audience to enjoy the actors’ voices resounding in the night of Elche.

Regarding professional difficulties, this so-called professional company chose the actors really carelessly, and many of them, such as the affected Achilles, did not measure up to their roles, The performances were unalike and lacked intensity: Agamemnon was excessively correct, while Clytemnestra was a powerful grieving wife and mother. The chorus was not very convincing either: the microphones’ did not help and their diction did not live up to the expectations. So we had quite a flat interpretation paired with an excessively static staging, where the director failed to pull the dramatic vein out of his generally lifeless actors. The show was not convincing, but the most important thing missing was the actors’ credibility, and so the story that was being told did not make much sense and looked pretty static, even if the venue was probably not the best for a display of technical mastery. The musical selection that accompanied the story was, however, quite remarkable. Anyhow, the biggest problem in the show was the version of Euripides’ text, which was so difficult for the actors to declaim that it lost its original brilliancy, and excessively cuts on the expectations on the play’s action. Had the director been more exigent with his actors, he would have made a better use of the venue and the actor’s diction.

All in all, the show was a praiseworthy effort that was labeled as professional but did not meet the expectations of such a theatre company. It was obvious by the apathetic applause given by the spectators that they had also noticed the flaws in the play. To make matters worse in this unsuccessful show, the ending left the audience completely indifferent.

Finally, it is also important to mention another big issue: given the steepness of the moat, the grandstands make it impossible to see the stage from the third row onwards. It is essential to solve all these difficulties in order to turn this newborn festival into an unmissable summer event in the province. Of course the quality of the interpretations must be improved, but also the quality of the event as a whole must increase. Even if this is undoubtedly a good project, it is essential to find the way to fill those grandstands with people eager to come to this privileged spot for open-air performances and make them want to come back again for reasons other than enjoying Roman food tastings such as the one we enjoyed. We are not so lucky as to have a beautiful arena by the Mediterranean sea as they do in Sagunto, but we certainly have plenty of beautiful places to hold summer theatre festivals. We have undoubtedly laid the foundations for future success, but we are still lacking the imagination to get past the pitfall traps.

VEU - Cultural Magazine of the University of Alicante

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