Choephori/Eumenides Bloomsbury Theatre 10 February


Easily the best performance of the evening came from Oliver Taplin in the pre-match talk.  Once he had shambled on looking alarmingly like the kind of derelict you see hanging around the Moscow metro (and with a suspicious bottle of clear liquid in his hand) he held the attention of a capacity crowd–in fact, probably more than there were for the plays themselves–for half an hour, and could easily have done so for much longer.  Maria Wyke was pretty good in a supporting role as well.

At the end, we were left with the question of why the plays of Aeschylus written two and a half millennia ago seem more relevant than nearly all of those written in the intervening period.  Then all we have to do is work out how sheepsguts should hale souls out of men’s bodies.

As for the plays:  there were some signs of sound directorial ideas in Choephori–at least Agamemnon’s tomb was not downstage centre, while Orestes and Electra raised and lowered their arms appropriately when invoking celestial and chthonic deities.  But Orestes seemed to be having difficulty remembering his lines and even made a brief exit-and-return during the tomb scene with Electra.  Kelly Agathos as Clytemnestra provided the best acting on display–though I have to release my inner bitch by saying that while being blatantly young, good-looking and well-dressed is rarely a handicap for an actress, it doesn’t really fit here.

The dead Clytemnestra and Aegisthus were dragged around for no apparent reason (a reference to Hamlet via I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room perhaps, as well as to the death of Agamemnon), which provoked some nervous laughter in the audience.

The Eumenides after the break was in many ways more encouraging.  We had a video appearance from the late Cytemnestra in black-and-white and the Erinyes presented themselves very effectively on the whole, though they did have some appallingly anodyne music and dance steps given who they were supposed to be.  The gold-tanned Apollo of Sam Smullen was pretty good, as was the silver-painted Clare Glenister as Athena.  But there was again a tendency to rush through the forensic exchanges as not being very interesting to the audience, when I think you need to pause and allow the twists and turns to sink in.

At the end, one had the feeling that the production’s sympathies were with the Erinyes–the programme notes certainly favoured their cause.

I just about managed to avoid being pissed upon by some drunken students from the UCL Union on the way to the Tube–divine retribution for thinking disrespectfuly of Professor Taplin…

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