Body Doubles, Babel's Voices: Katie Mitchell's Iphigenia at Aulis and the Theatre of Sacrifice
Contemporary Theatre Review
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What happens to a body when circumstance demands it enact its own forgetting? What reaction in turn does a body in the process of violent self-erasure prompt in its spectators? These and related questions propel my investigation of Katie Mitchell's 2004 National Theatre production of Euripedes' Iphigenia at Aulis. Mitchell's chilling representation of Iphigenia's final moments, during which the young girl speaks with apparently patriotic fervour her willingness to be murdered for her nation's sake, embeds the very loss that such a performance of sacrifice typically elides. The result: two bodies collide on stage before our eyes - the compliant, self-effacing body sacrifice demands, and the physically and emotionally overwhelmed body sacrifice denies. Mitchell's practice of 'radical naturalism', an acting technique that straddles Stanislavsky and Brecht and infects her stage with an uncanny critique of realism even as it inhabits the genre with clockwork precision, works together with innovative staging techniques in this production in order to force an uncomfortable proximity between audiences, actors and characters. The overwhelming affect performed by Hattie Morahan as Iphigenia, combined with the uncanny echo of its amplification via an onstage microphone that appears to give Morahan's voice a body of its own, stage Mitchell's challenge to contemporary spectators: can we reassess the codes and attitudes by which we recognize and receive realist performance? More importantly, can we re-imagine what it might mean, at the theatre, to bear witness to a body captured in the moment of its most profound loss?