Girl on an Altar: powerful poetic tragedy of grief and trauma

Kate Stanley Brennan as Cilissa and Eileen Walsh as Clytemnestra in Girl on an Altar at the Kiln Theatre

Kate Stanley Brennan as Cilissa and Eileen Walsh as Clytemnestra in Girl on an Altar at the Kiln Theatre - Credit: Peter Searle

Girl on an Altar

Kiln Theatre

****

Having endured so much, Clytemnestra should have more time to talk about it.

In Marina Carr’s striking adaptation of the Greek myth, co-produced by the Abbey Theatre, she gets her chance. Instead of immediate revenge - killing Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter in the name of war - Carr’s play focuses on the impact of trauma and the question of possible forgiveness.

It divides into two parts: a charged retelling of the murder, and a drawn-out second act which focusses on Agamemnon's return from Troy, ten years later. Clytemnestra wrestles with her feelings for her childhood love who has become a ‘battle-scarred warlord’ forever carrying the blood of their 10-year old daughter on his hands.

His shows of remorse - flagellation by the graveside, erecting a golden statue - are poorly disguised gestures to get his repulsed wife back into bed. Monologues are inter-cut with fierce exchanges. The cost of so much telling is that Clytemnestra delays her murderous revenge - a significant shift from Aeschylus - and the cogitating risks becoming repetitive.

Most Read

But Carr uses elevating poetry and earthy prose to expose Agamemnon’s self-deceptions while shining a light on secondary characters whose destinies deserve more attention. Cassandra (Nina Bowers), Agamemnon’s ‘little prophetess’ teenage concubine who is stolen from Troy and Cilissa (Kate Stanley-Brennan) Clytemnestra’s loyal half-Amazonian serving woman, whose bloodline robs her of status. Director Annabelle Comyn makes the most of unpacking the topical relevance of toxic masculinity and femicide.

Full dress rehearsal of girl On An Alter at the Kiln Theatre, 19th May 2022, Commisioned by Ben Prud

David Walmsley as Agamemnon and Eileen Walsh as Clytemnestra in Girl on an Altar - Credit: Peter Searle

This kingdom of secrecy and control is cleverly staged on a modern set that opens into an opulent palace, its dimensions initially artfully concealed from view like the many ‘dead-eyed’ women who, as Cassandra and Clytemnestra report, are locked up in the harem. 

Eileen Walsh's Clytemnestra is formidable; riven with fury, wry and intelligent. David Walmsley as Agamemnon restlessly paces the stage, lauding his macho physique, insisting he is "Zeus Agamemnon" while, in truth, he cares little for the opinion of the gods. There’s palpable tension in the air as stars twinkle in the blackness and the sound of lapping waves underscores the tragedy.

Full dress rehearsal of girl On An Alter at the Kiln Theatre, 19th May 2022, Commisioned by Ben Prud

Daon Broni (Aegisthus), David Walmsley (Agamemnon) in Girl on an Altar - Credit: Peter Searle

Girl on an Altar runs until June 25. https://kilntheatre.com/whats-on/girl-on-an-altar/