Orestes: Re-examined Southwark Playhouse 3 October


Picture from orestesinlondon.blogspot.com

Picture from orestesinlondon.blogspot.com

We waited in a line to collect our tickets and then have our names taken by people in fluorescent jackets.  I gave up trying to buy a drink and then we were welcomed to Argos by a bloke under a video screen.  It showed pictures of shiny happy buildings and then went dead.  After that, a group of rebels appeared to take over and led us to the auditorium where we sat along the sides while  Orestes was chained at one end and Clytaemnestra’s bloody robe hung at the other.

So the question was whether Orestes should be executed for killing his mother.  Orestes, aided by Menelaus, pointed out that she had killed his father after entangling him in a net and oppressed his sister Electra.  In fact, the speech for the defence came first, which was a bit bizarre by the standards of the Greeks or anyone else for that matter.  The (largely female) rebels said that he had killed his mother and they had suffered various kind of sexual harassment/discrimination/violence.  So it’s the Eumenides in a way but if you never surface the conflict between the old matriarchal gods and the new patriarchal ones it all seems very arbitrary.  And without the harsh clashing poetry you do begin to wonder what the point is.

So Athena appeared as an impartial arbitrator and turned the audience into a jury–people came round with red (death) and black (acquittal) balls for us to vote with.    Orestes was acquitted and returned to power, rather to my disgust–I wanted to know what would happen in the truly anti-Aeschylean alternative.

Then there were some deeply inconsequential further exchanges before we were let out.

It was all quite competently performed, in the manner of something that had been extensively workshopped–though I couldn’t always hear what Menelaus (Adrian Francis) was saying–and there was even some quite effective singing.  But without either the ideological clash or the poetry of Aeschylus all a bit pointless somehow.

For those interested, you can always study the Eumenides in the original at the City Lit.

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