Review: Agamemnon / The Moke-Eater at QMUL

Tonight’s two shows at the Queen Mary Theatre Company’s Midseason Festival were a testament to the bold and unusual risks university theatre is willing to take, and their typical hit-or-miss results.  While I certainly enjoyed seeing what these directors and casts were willing to do, these postmodern risk-takers were no Shunt or Punchdrunk.  But hey, we’re still learning here.

agamemnon

Agamemnon by Steven Berkoff follows the recent trend of modern, transgressive updates to classic Greek myths that are so popular right now.  The play does not follow any one character in particular, in fact resembling more the recitation of an epic poem by the chorus during which characters occasionally emerge than a true dramatic performance.  Such choral sections were sometimes powerful and intriguing, especially when the actors entered into the seating space, but more often were static and felt unnecessarily long.

Much of the dramatic action of the play (scenes from the war, Agamemnon’s murder) were performed behind a scrim, which unfortunately the lighting could not make transparent enough; instead of a hazy, intriguing portrait of events, the audience could hardly discern anything at all happening in the background.  The actress playing Clytemnestra was a powerful presence and a clear standout in the show, with the scene in which she bodily confronts Agamemnon about his infidelities particularly engaging.  Her extended speeches, meanwhile, were the only ones interesting enough to pay attention to.

The Moke-Eater by Ken Bernard, meanwhile, tells the story of a traveling salesman named Jack whose car breaks down outside a small town, in which he discovers a population of grotesque, barely intelligible people and their boss Alec who insists on leading him through a series of bizarre and frightening games for his own amusement.  The character of Jack, clearly written to have an American Southern accent, was played by the only American in the cast but with a bare token attempt at doing the accent justice, leading the play to feel even less grounded in a real place than it already would.  Jack was also played by a female actress with her hair in a ponytail and a penciled-on beard, making it difficult to fully trust the character as the text needs the audience to do.

The most extraordinary part of this performance was the costumes and makeup, an eclectic mashup of sequins, capes and furs, with hairstyles and other pieces attached to the skin that seemed to defy gravity.  The set as well was fairly impressive, an entire town constructed in miniature out of cardboard.  The show on the whole was perhaps more interesting to look at than to listen to, when only some of the one-liners hit home and Jack’s plight was almost too one-dimensional to side with.  The unexplained addition to the show of one actor in an army uniform with duct tape over his mouth occasionally walking across the stage served only to confuse, and the Moke-Eater himself in his few appearances felt like more of an afterthought than the culmination of Jack’s nightmare.

Both of the shows tonight were noteworthy in that they took big risks, fully committing to a directorial vision that may or may not have succeeded.  Was this professional quality theatre?  No.  But I highly appreciate QMTC allowing directors to be as experimental as they wish to be, letting us all learn from the process and its ultimate performance.

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One response to “Review: Agamemnon / The Moke-Eater at QMUL

  1. Harlan & Sally Johnson

    Natalie, Did you write this review? It is certainly well written. The weather here is simply gloomy. Not much to do but read a good book. You are in a good place this month…away from all the gloomy weather and gloomy people. Love you. Grandma J

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