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My only concern as I took my seat for the final act was whether the achievement so far could be sustained. And, unfortunately, as it unfolded my own doubts started to creep in. The cumulative effect of certain details started to irritate: the tendency, for example, to punctuate so many of Jephtha's 'airs' with applause from the chorus; the over-business of minor characters, the dumb-show and mugging inserted to demonstrate their reason for being on the stage at all. And, for me, an innovation too far was the insertion of Jephtha's barked instruction, 'Go! Go! Go!', to his henchmen as Iphis was dragged off to be executed.

There were, nonetheless, some glorious moments, significantly at points of great intimacy and tenderness, rather than high drama. It was a beautiful conceit, for example, to have Jephtha sing his 'Waft her angels through the skies' directly to Iphis herself, while cradling her like a small child in his arms.

Sarah Tynan (Iphis) and Mark Padmore (Jephtha) in rehearsal. Photo © Brian Tarr
Sarah Tynan (Iphis) and Mark Padmore (Jephtha) in rehearsal. Photo © Brian Tarr

And this final act allowed Mitchell to give her own twist to the outcome of the tale, not by altering anything, but by counterpointing the sense of relief, and even triumph, when Iphis is reprieved from death by letting us see the trauma of the victim; and victim she remains, her new fate to spend the rest of her days in 'pure, angelic virgin-state.'

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Copyright © 25 May 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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