Built inside the Noel Lothian Hall in the Botanic Gardens, it gives the feeling that you are underground, with deafening shells exploding around you. Wooden benches along the walls provide seating, as if the audience members were soldiers in the bunker, alive or dead.
This is the setting for the World War I re-imagining of the myth of Agamemnon and The Trojan War.
Two soldiers are cut off; the principal soldier stumbles in with a shrapnel wound to the stomach. Becoming delirious, in his mind he returns to the wife he left behind. Then the scene changes effortlessly to England, where the wife – who plays a huge part in this play – is being looked after by the soldier’s asthmatic cousin.
This is the original English production from Jethro Compton Productions, and the cast members are all excellent. There is not one unbelievable moment of acting or direction, and the northern accents are beguiling.
The sympathy balance between the two central characters is skewed by the soldier’s relative innocence or guilt. We are told by the cousin towards the end that the soldier was a bully and show-off as a child (Agamemnon-like characteristics indeed), but we never see this. By the time of this pronouncement we have only seen the soldier as engagingly romantic toward his fiancée and declining to go to war until he is shamed by receiving a white feather. His guilt is only that he conforms, against his wife’s wishes.
The mythological Agamemnon not only led the war (in some versions he started it), he also sacrificed his daughter for fair winds, then brought home a famous concubine. Thus the fate that the soldier receives in this play seems a bit harsh. But then, did he really receive it? Is he imagining it in the bunker, as the shrapnel wound in his stomach becomes something greater in his mind?
This is excellent theatre; I am highly motivated to see what these same four actors, in the same bunker setting, make of Macbeth and Morganna. The Bunker Trilogy is drama to put on the must-see list.
Agamemnon is part of The Bunker Trilogy that also includes Morgana and Macbeth. The plays are being presented at Noel Lothian Hall, Botanic Gardens, until March 14.
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