The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon
Jethro Compton Ltd @ The Bunker
7:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2014
Four weeks – almost an entire Fringe! – had passed since I’d seen Morgana at The Bunker; whilst there was a generous opening crowd there that afternoon, word-of-mouth had spread. The houses were sold out for the two performances at the venue this evening, and the door staff also had to contend with a steady stream of people trying to buy tickets on the night; the wait list extended to about twenty people.
And that, I must admit, makes my heart soar: Jethro Compton and Company took a massive risk setting up their own venue well away from the usual Fringe haunts (if you ignore 2008’s Fringe Factory), but the quality of their work – and word-of-mouth – has seen them pull in great crowds (if this closing Saturday night was any indication).
But on to Agamemnon: of the three Bunker Trilogy plays, this is the one I knew the least about going in. The source material was completely foreign to me, so I was unable to see how the First World War makeover affected the storyline… but that’s not to say that the play suffered for it.
Agamemnon is, once again, a young soldier at war; for much of the performance he lays in the painful shadow of death, trapped in the trenches at the front of battle. Scenes flit between Agamemnon’s pain and fear – with bombs going off overhead, and gunfire nearby – and his cottage at home, where his young wife Clytemnestra waits dutifully for his return. There’s flashbacks to their pre-war courtship, and a bit of confusion as (I think) Agamemnon hallucinates what her response will be to his war-time indiscretions when he returns. But Clytemnestra, trapped in her cottage with only Agamemnon’s cousin to keep her company, has her own reasons to turn against her husband…
If there’s one thing that Agamemnon absolutely nails, it’s the feeling of tension that the production conjures from nowhere. On the one hand, we have the titular character struggling to stave off his own death, driven (and haunted) by thoughts of his wife and home… but knowing full well that the call to fling what meagre reserves he has left at the enemy is incoming. On the other side of the coin, we see Clytemnestra transform from doting lover to scheming murderess, never really knowing whether she – and cousin Aegisthus – will have to carry out the deed.
It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff, and it’s absolutely hammered home by the performances of James Marlowe and Bebe Sanders as husband and wife; the anguish that both actors could create was absolutely palpable. And, once again, the venue plays a major role in the immersion in the play; even after four weeks, the earth underfoot still fills the nose with a richness that plays against the mustiness of the walls and seating, creating a unique environment that feels utterly convincing, given the setting of the First World War.
It feels almost glib to say that I “loved” Agamemnon; its subject matter is far too dark and grim to support such an expression. But it was an incredibly immersive experience, packing an emotional punch and leaving me a little bit fragile… I’ve no idea how some people managed to see all three Bunker Trilogy shows back-to-back-to-back.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 15, 2014