UC Follies opens the season with an emotional take on an ancient tragedy

In the wake of the online threats against U of T’s feminists comes UC Follies’ Agamemnon, one of the most female-driven of the Greek tragedies. As the theater company’s opening production for the year, the play encapsulates the Follies’ theme for the season, which is ‘gender and power’.

Aeschylus’ 2500-year-old masterpiece tells the story of the ancient King’s return home from Troy. Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra — the star of the show — chooses not to welcome her husband home and instead viciously murders him in  the bathtub out of revenge for his murder of their own daughter.

According to Dorcas Chiu, director of the play, the female-centric aspect of the story in contrast to the inherent sexism both in the original script and the translation chosen, are one of the main reasons that she selected Agamemnon in the first place. “I really wanted to highlight…how three-dimensional women can be in Greek Tragedy,” said Chiu, who spoke with The Varsity about the performance’s inception. She explained that one of the ways she incorporated the theme was by casting an all female-chorus, leaving Agamemnon who — despite being the titular character — only shows up in one scene. She also carefully selected which parts of the poem are told by which members of the chorus, to help emphasize the depth and complexity of Clytemnestra’s actions. “That’s kind of my concept,” Chiu said, “to justify Clytemnestra actions and to justify women’s rights.”

The story is, characteristic of Greek tragedies, told almost entirely using long monologues with virtually no action, making Agamemnon a challenge for even a professional theatre company. That being said, Chiu uses every resource at her disposal to make the story engaging for the audience.

The show was performed in the UC quad, using lighting, costumes, makeup, and original electronic music composed by U of T student Aidan O’Brien. Props were used to maximum effect and contributed to the play’s ominous atmosphere — for instance, the UC building itself drew the viewers’ attention as it loomed over the actors throughout the performance, reminding the audience at every moment of the majesty and wealth of the ‘House of Argos’ (Agamemnon’s family) — another major theme throughout the story.

By far the most striking element of the production lay in the movements of the actors and their use of dance, motion, and positioning to aid in presenting their dialogue. “I’m a very movement-based person,” explained Chiu, who was trained as a dancer prior to her acting and directing career. “I’m very interested in how you can translate words into movement and how visceral[ly] that evokes the audience. That’s where I came from, into Agamemnon, trying to translate words into movement and how poetic that can be and what drives people to move.”

This dedication to dance is evident throughout the production — there is not a single scene in Agamemnon where the actors are not in motion, even when the course of the scene is elsewhere. Members of the chorus also use facial expressions, poses, giggling, cackling and whistling to help set the mood for every monologue throughout the play. Although the continual reinforcement of emotional character could have easily come across as forced or overly simplified for the audience, in practice, it highlighted the exaggerated nature of Greek theatre in general perfectly — which in turn was complimented by the choice of Ted Hughes’ poetic translation.

Chiu and the Follies’ rendition of Agamemnon is captivating and engaging — a commendable feat for a story that could have otherwise been inaccessible.

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