Gus in London: The Oresteia

53744aThe Oresteia 

By Gustavo Subero

At a staggering nearly four-hour play, Robert Icke’s adaptation of Aeschylus’s dramatic trilogy isn’t anything short of being one of the most riveting and electrifying theatre experiences of the last decade. Part The good wife and part The west wing, the play is very current in its depiction of a family saga and the political intrigues that occur at the highest levels of power. Icke transports the audience to a world in which military conflicts, the power of the media, internal politics and the family as a social unit are dissected in order to make this old Greek tragedy feel very current and resonate with a 21c audience.
In a move that clearly sets the tone of the narrative, Icke (creator/director) begins the play by going further back beyond the trilogy’s timeline, and devotes the first act to a short and poignant retelling of Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis. This is, without a doubt, where the dramatic power of Lia Williams (as a magnificent troubled and heartbroken Clytemnestra) and Angus Wright (as the introspected and sorrowful Agamemnon) can be best felt. For the audience it is impossible to remain impassible, while glued to their seat, as the drama between the couple quickly moves from the joys of having their family together and their clear desires for one another (in the preamble to war) to the point where sorrow drives Clytemnestra  to near madness, as she learns of the death of her daughter at the hands of her husband in other to placate the ire of the gods. Williams shows a characters with multiple layers and whose pain and eventual resolution (her decision to seek revenge) are clearly heartfelt. However, the director does not sacrifice the essence of the original play by downplaying Agamemnon’s story. Hence audiences can also see Wright’s transformation from loving husband and partner, to a sorrowful human being who can barely deal with the remorse from his own actions.
image1Icke very cleverly unfolds the rest of the play as a series of flashbacks recounted by a highly traumatised Orestes (played with a passionate intermission by Luke Thompson), as his mental sanity is assessed by whom can only be assumed to be his psychiatric doctor (Lorna Brown) in a role that substitutes the entire chorus of the original tragedy. Orestes is also troubled by the ghostly image of his sister Electra (in the stage debut of Downtown Abbey’s ex-star Jessica Brown Findley) whom has persuaded him to avenge their father’s death by killing his mother (oblivious to the fact that Agamemnon himself is responsible for their sister’s death). Finally, the last section of the play centres on the trial of Orestes for his crime and provides an interesting insight (and turn of events from the Greek original) into the internal struggles he faces, as he tries to overcome the guilt of killing his own mother while embracing a feeling of righteousness for avenging his father.
Oresteia performed at the Almeida Theatre Luke Thompson  Lia Williams Jessica Brown Findlay  Hara Yannas ©Alastair Muir 06.06.15
Oresteia performed at the Almeida Theatre
Luke Thompson Lia Williams Jessica Brown Findlay Hara Yannas
©Alastair Muir 06.06.15

Icke’s play is every bit clever and current. The set is very minimalistic and yet effective thank to the work of Hildegard Bechtlet who creates an environment that morphes through a set of screens that move along the length of the stage and that go from transparent, to translucent to black and provide a clever backdrop to the action occurring both in front and behind the actors. The use of small cameras and some small screens in the theatre also feel reminiscent of the director’s previous work in 1984, as a poignant way to comment on the power of address of the media and the political forces behind it. Undoubtedly, this adaptation clearly takes a more feminist stand, as it tries to distance itself from the usual condemnation of Clytemnestra as an irrational and vengeful character whose action are frowned upon by a clearly mysoginist society that sees no wrongdoing, ironically, in men’s murderous own actions. Women take centre stage in this adaptation that becomes a treaty on the power of address of the female figure when confronted by those same structures of power that have oppressed them since millennia.

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