Iphigenia at Aulis, NT Lyttelton, London<br></br>Blues for Mr Charlie, Tricycle, London<br></br>Jimmy, Barbican Pit, London

Gods and monsters dressed in Dior
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Euripides' plays are peculiarly modern. His cynicism about the Ancient World's gods and heroes seems, famously, ahead of its time. But just how far can you push his works in an update? Setting cavils aside for a moment, the answer is, impressively, well over two millennia, bringing the action into our own epoch. The closing scenes of Katie Mitchell's new modern-dress production of Iphigenia at Aulis are extraordinarily harrowing, ripped through with fresh grief as the general Agamemnon sends his eponymous daughter to her death. Kate Duchêne's bereaved Clytemnestra is devastatingly distraught. Nor can you miss the contemporary reverberations as helicopters thunder overhead, threatening the innocent women and children around her.

However, those cavils. Mitchell's vision of the play is sometimes strained. Waiting at Aulis before attacking Troy, the Greek commanders scurry round in 1940's-going-on-1950's double-breasted suits while Clytemnestra wears Christian Dior. This update feels awkward as soon as Ben Daniels' Agamemnon has to talk of sacrificing Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. Don Taylor's translation is also stiff. That said, most of the dialogue comes over with immediate intensity, thanks to outstanding central performances and, notably, to Daniels, who improves the script by weaving in a few phrases of his own. Such improvisations aren't totally out of order since the vintage text is believed to include actors' interpolations.

More importantly, Mitchell's reading becomes increasingly persuasive. The chorus of ladies from Calchis are manifestly comical early tourists, harping on about the hunky Achaean celebs they've rushed to see. Mitchell runs with the satirical tone, endowing them with autograph books, while Dominic Rowan's egocentric Menelaus works the crowd, going on a hasty walkabout and pressing the flesh. Though proving valiant in the end, Justin Salinger's Achilles is also a laughably vain athlete who can't stop fidgeting with his collar when meeting heads of state.

If you accept that the setting isn't entirely coherent, you pick up a rich range of political echoes. Duchêne's Clytemnestra has a touch of Eva Peron. There is also a hint of the Romanovs about Agamemnon and his clan, as Daniels desperately argues they'll all be killed if he doesn't placate the rank and file. Principally though, his base looks like eastern Europe under Communism: a crumbling winter palace reduced to a shabby, sinister military institution. Mitchell radically suggests that the chorus, when they all talk or sing at once, are under surveillance,and that the gods may be unseen powers-that-be back in Moscow. Thought-provoking and not to be missed.

In James Baldwin's 1964 tragedy, Blues for Mr Charlie, a town in the American Deep South is riven by racial violence. A young black man, Richard, has been murdered. Infuriated by the justice system's persistent institutionalised racism, the black townsfolk are determined that the suspected killer - an impoverished white man called Lyle - will be convicted this time. The local newspaper editor, Parnell, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, being a lifelong pal of Lyle's but also a smart liberal who sides with the black community.

This play is a powerful and, depressingly, still pertinent blast from the past. Baldwin offers insights into the confused love-hate relations that can develop between black and white; Paulette Randall's production is forceful and fluid with a clapboard chapel swiftly converting into bars, bedrooms and a courtroom. The snag is that her large ensemble isn't fine-tuned, with much shouting and some feebly caricatured white bigots. Still, Rolf Saxon is on fine form as the conscience-plagued Parnell, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster is magnetic as Richard's long-suffering fiancée.

War and bigotry are lurking in the back of someone's mind (or several minds?) throughout Jimmy. In this teasing solo (yet multiple personality) show, imported from Montreal for BITE, we find Jimmy standing in the corner of a room, surrounded by darkness. He says he is a gay hairdresser born in 1950, dreamt up by a homophobic American general as the latter lay sleeping uneasily before going to fight in Korea. Jimmy has been having something of an identity crisis since the general's death, unwillingly featuring in the dreams of a Montreal actress whom he insists isn't his dream woman at all.

Jimmy (and the other characters) are embodied by the Asian-Québecois actress and writer Marie Brassard (who has previously worked with Robert Lepage). A tragicomic androgynous figure, she appears in a pinstripe suit, with a long mane of black hair and mask-like white make-up - combining the avant-garde with elements of traditional Noh theatre.

This performance can be rambling, but the Pirandellian games tantalise as we chase dreams-within-dreams. Brassard is arresting, combining technical polish with extremely quirky surprises. Her voice, amplified and distorted, slides uncannily between a deep masculine drawl and girlish giggles. In a nightmarish chase scene, screams of "Ji-mmy" transmute into a screeching train whistle, and there's one unforgettable disco scene where Brassard glides round her lonely dance floor, croaking the lyrics of "Love Hurts". Weirdly funny and forlorn.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

'Iphigenia at Aulis': NT Lyttelton, London SE1 (020 7452 3000), to 7 Sept; 'Blues for Mr Charlie': Tricycle, London NW6 (020 7328 1000), to 19 July; 'Jimmy': Barbican Pit, London EC2 (0845 120 7527), to Sat

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