During the COVID-19 lockdown, Stéphane Braunschweig was struck by the sight of the buzzing city of Paris going all of a sudden desert and dead silent, like a sea deprived of wind. Immediately he was haunted by the similarities between witnessing the unexpected stillness of the world and Racine’s play. Iphigénie takes place in Aulis, where the Greek fleets are moored in wait for a campaign against Troy. The sea is desperately calm and the gods will not unleash the wind until Agamemnon sacrifices his own daughter Iphigénie. Like with the global pandemic, everything is on pause, the operation is postponed, and the whole army impatiently awaits.
The play is performed on a traverse stage with the projection of the moving image of a day on the sea behind both parts of the audience. The décor consists of two white chairs, a water dispenser and a glass door. The office setting is completed by the costumes which consist of white, black and grey suits. Both the costumes and the use of the traverse stage as a way of modernizing a grand masterpiece resemble Rodolphe Dana’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. But here the Greek, as opposed to the Romans, are neither seen nor heard like in Julius Caesar where the characters interact with the public as if it were the citizens of Rome and the roar of the crowd is played over speakers. Both the Greek army and citizens are absent in the play although they are thoroughly mentioned in the text.
In Racine’s tragedy nothing goes as planned, the characters are always hesitating, questioning themselves and their actions in endless deliberations. The strongest character is not Agamemnon, a faint-hearted leader, but Iphigénie, who pushes filial respect and patriotism to the point of voluntarily leaving the stage in order to attend her own sacrifice. The altar is cleverly depicted by a bright red light shining through the glass door.
Surprisingly the best performances seem to be in all the secondary roles. Anne Clanineau plays a strong Clytemnestre, Iphigénie’s mother who, at the beginning of the play, is high on her daughter’s happiness as she is about to get married to Achille the man she loves. The queen is ready to give away her own life in order to avoid the gruesome sacrifice of her beloved daughter and is very convincing in both her joy and pain.
Chloé Réjon plays a magnificent and powerful Ériphile, a character invented by Racine in an attempt to modernize the myth of Iphigénie. The woman introduced on stage as a friend of Iphigénie soon becomes her rival, as she declares herself in love with Achille. In her deliberations and own dilemmas, the persuasive actress reveals an interpretation of the character far from the common evil rival who nevertheless plans to kill Iphigénie.
The play ends on a long tirade by Ulysse, beautifully played by Sharif Andoura, who had previously convinced Agamemnon to proceed with the sacrifice. Returning from the altar, he remarkably discloses what just occurred, in such a persuasive manner that the scene vividly appears in one’s mind underlining the power and beauty of words and theatre. Unfortunately, the play isn’t carried throughout by the main characters, the modernistic décor has a strong déjà vu feeling attached to it resulting in the show seeming to drag a bit for too long. The impatience and presence of the Greek army and citizens at the altar would have allowed more tragedy in a play that overall lacked emotion despite being based on an exquisite text and nearly saved by remarkable secondary roles.
- By Jean Racine
- Director: Stéphane Braunschweig
- Artistic collaboration by Anne-Françoise Benhamou
- Light by Marion Hewlett; Sound by Xavier Jacquot Video by Maïa Fastinger
- Cast includes: Claude Duparfait, Jean-Philippe Vidal, Pierric Plathier, Thibault Vinçon, Sharif Andoura, Jean-Baptiste Anoumon, Anne Cantineau, Virginie Colemyn, Suzanne Aubert, Cécile Coustillac, Lamya Regragui Muzio, Chloé Réjon
- Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe Paris
- Until 14 Novembre 2020