Oresteia, Riverside Studios 03 March


Picture from britishtheatreinfo.org

Another evening, another set of fingernails scrabbling on the marble surface of Greek tragedy and finding no purchase.  To be fair, this was technically much better than yesterday evening’s Bacchae–you could make out almost all that was said–but there was really no sign that the director had got on terms with the work.

One of the main problems–which is of course very common–was the reduction in scale as against the original that took up a pretty hefty proportion of the Athenian state’s disposable surplus.  I think the Furies are supposed to be frightening in their multitudinous indistinguishability, but here there were three of them.  Similarly, we had a rather tokenistic piece of net that would have made a nice shawl for Agamemnon instead of fatally entangling him and killings were carried out with dagger rather than sword and axe.  Agamemnon was also wearing modesty-preserving black trunks to have his bath, so obviously he suspected something.  If Clytemnestra kills him with a dagger, which can be a woman’s weapon to us, then it’s not transgressive the way it ought to be.

The version by Ted Hughes showed poetic promise (and a keen interest in the harsher aspects of the natural world), but perhaps the process of abridgement prevented it from reaching full power.  Either he or the chorus fluffed one of the crucial lines, about Agamemnon putting on the harness of necessity, which explains both him and Orestes.  The performance ran from 1930 to 2150 with an interval of twenty minutes or so, which is not long for a whole trilogy.  The lack of time showed in the trial of Orestes, who stood around for a couple of minutes while arguments were exchanged–and then he was free.  Some waiting and suspense while the votes were counted would have been a good idea.  I think that Athena is supposed to be young, calm and virginal–here she resembled a harassed Tessa Jowell and she seemed to have a wedding ring as well.

The lack of grovelling deference shown to gods and other superiors worried me as making the whole basis of the work incomprehensible, and casting each part with a different actor as though it was a modern play meant a lot of actors had rather little to do and it became very episodic.

I thought that George Siena as Apollo was good: otherworldly and imposing as he ought to be.  Clare Porter (Clytemnestra),Tobias Deacon (Orestes) and Laura Morgan (Electra) looked like a family–but why did Electra have such a nice dress if she’s the local Cinderella?–and the fatal scene between Orestes and Clytemnestra was promising but vitiated by misapplied modest naturalism.

Oh well, better luck next time…In fact, we did have better luck last time!  And see here for other Greek plays I know about in London.

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