4 Min Read

Brilliant Consistency: The Persians

Ellen McLaughlin’s The Persians delivers a classic Greek tragedy while remaining contemporary. The play is an adaption of the oldest surviving Greek tragedy, written by Aeschylus who served in the victorious Athenian army against the Persian invasion.

The opening sequence sees the Chorus, as a bunch of suits in a boardroom, wandering around the stage in a busy urban setting where people cross paths barely acknowledging others and certainly not exchanging eye contact. Humphrey Bower’s direction creates a suave yet busy flow to the scene, reminding me of a chase sequence in an art heist film. These corporate New York vibes compliment the sound, delivered solely by a live drum kit played by Allison Mack.

The first adaptations of this play would have had the actors’ wearing masks, which this production pays homage to with face paint on all actors that also resembles the limestone statues we associate with Greece. The business-like characterisation of the Chorus is an original touch and lends itself to the dry delivery of corporate talk, juxtaposing the emotive dialogue of the war time accounts by the soldiers and monarchs. The perspective of the defeated cannot avoid hitting a nerve. The shame of losing emanates the strongest in Zoe Garciano’s portrayal of Herald. Each line delivered with an intensity that runs so deep it’s reflected in the most acute and minute detail of precise facial muscle contractions, complimented by the shadows. 

The Persians, presented by Curtin’s Hayman Theatre.

I read somewhere that good reviewers say that something that wasn’t a character was a character. Well, this time “something”, or someone, that wasn’t the director was the director. The lighting, designed by Isla Simeoni, feels like it directs the actors around the stage. Is The Persians directed by Isla, or Humphrey Bower? I’m not saying that they’re the same person.. but has anyone actually seen them in the same room before? Either way, there’s a clear cohesion between the lighting and the direction which sets the pace and tone. Particularly in a scene towards the end, where the boardroom Chorus stands in a triangle formation pointing towards the returned and disgraced Xerxes, which leaves beautiful geometry on the floor and the walls. With a finesse I’ve never seen before, the shadows tell us just as much as the lighting. It has left me wanting to see what Isla does next.

The Persians, presented by Curtin’s Hayman Theatre.

Tiandra Seal as the monarch and mourning widow Atossa has a poise that fits her royal character. However, the Chorus doesn’t blend well enough to allow her character to truly stand out. I also couldn’t take my eyes off Kate Naunton Morgan, who is a natural on stage. Directing a six-strong Chorus proves to be a challenging pursuit, as it takes a certain skill for actors not in leading roles to blend in. The intention with the flow of the Chorus and their movements is very clear, and I love the idea of it. It only just falls short of that potential; maybe it was just one of those nights. You can read what I think, but you might have a different experience on a night you go. Overall, the attention to detail is subtle with a brilliant consistency that emanates throughout the whole play. It reminds me how original theatre can be despite endless re-tellings of the same stories.

As someone who is far from a theatre nerd, I am once again caught off guard by my enjoyment of a war time story, which is not my go-to genre when I’m looking for entertainment. Likewise, I’m surprised to enjoy a show that I don’t find particularly relatable. Despite these deviances from my usual appetite, the fact The Persians broadens my horizons makes it enjoyable. Perhaps you’re witnessing the development of a theatre nerd, a newly defined element of my experience-seeking.

The Persians is presented by Curtin’s Hayman Theatre and is on now until July 29.