I was really excited when we commissioned The Iphigenia Quartet plays at the Gate. The woeful tale of Iphigenia is one of those tragedies of ‘the canon’, a story from Ancient Greece about power: those who have it and those that don’t. It’s a beautiful story.
But I’m not a trained classicist, so I found myself wondering: in the complex story of the whole Trojan War, what came before Iphigenia’s tragedy? And then, what came before that? And then that? How did this story begin?
I came across ‘The Judgement of Paris’. This event is briefly alluded to in Homer’s epic poem, The Illiad. It’s a tale of an enormous wedding attended by all of the gods – except one: the goddess of Strife. And when Strife (inevitably) arrives on the scene, she causes a stir. She sets in motion a chain of events that kick starts the Trojan War. And the rest is part-factual, part-fictional history; the backbone to Western literary history.
‘The Judgement of Paris’ is an amazing little episode, packed full of tropes which have since been absorbed into children’s fairy tales: the spurned woman ruining a ceremony (now the start of Sleeping Beauty), the ‘poison’ apple and the eternal question “Who is the fairest of them all?” (since immortalised in Snow White)… But, truth be told, I felt uncomfortable that the story centred around, essentially, a beauty contest. So one Sunday afternoon I found myself writing a new version of ‘The Judgement of Paris’. A jackanory-style version, with a dark heart. And my version tries to put power back into the ladies’ hands.
I was writing it for myself, really. Imagining a disembodied voice telling this strange bedtime story. So when Chris, the Gate’s Artistic Director, read it and recognised it as a prologue to our Iphigenia Quartet, we started talking about it as an audio play. Something you can listen to through your headphones, a secret story for one. And because I’m always fascinated when music and theatre crash together, we wanted to commission an other-worldly soundscape to support the story. I love Adult Jazz’s invigorating music, so when we approached them to collaborate on the project it was amazing when they said yes. Then to have Hattie Morahan be excited to perform it was the cherry on the cake. Thanks to them all for joining in this experiment in storytelling.
So that’s how it all began.
Listen to the play here.