Posts Tagged ‘Riverside Studios’

Oresteia, Riverside Studios 03 March

March 4, 2012


Picture from

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.

Sonya’s Story Riverside Studios 08 August

August 8, 2010


'Failed again!' as Uncle Vanya might put it

To start with, we had a talk from who might well have been Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival, and someone else who was definitely Sally Burgess, Director of Sonya’s Story.  BBJ explained that Tête à Tête was meant to fill the void where the National Opera Studio, BAC Opera and Bridewell used to be and to allow artists and audiences to try something new.  Sonya’s Story was a work-in progress amounting to half of an opera planned by Neal Thornton, who was also Mr Sally Burgess.

The set was as you can kind of see above, dominated not by a nasty piece of over-exposure but by a large portrait of Professor Serebryakov (grey) and his new wife Yelena (pink).  What happened in the piece was that Sonya (Caryl Hughes–Welsh accent) ran through her part in the action of Uncle Vanya and Cozmin Sime (Romanian accent) did the same for Uncle Vanya and Dr Astrov.  There wasn’t much interaction between them–though a non-singing Yelena (Ilana Corban) did come on to swing in a swing, eat an apple, and dance with a rather reluctant Sonya.  So it was rather opera by messenger speech.

The music (played by piano, violin, flute, double bass and percussion under the direction of Lionel Friend) was somewhere in a space defined by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Gershwin and the more tony musicals, but strangely enough the whole experience was very affecting and I don’t know why.  Probably because the high points of Uncle Vanya are now hardwired into my being.

Anyway, this was certainly a good way to spend £ 6,  and it will apparently be joined by a Yelena’s Story to make up a complete reinterpretation of Uncle Vanya.

Antigone (Riverside Studios) 22 April

April 22, 2010


A Thursday matinee of Antigone started unpromisingly: Antigione was running backwards and forwards and throwing stones at birds represented by offstage squawkings, while the Greek schoolkids behind me were chattering noisily.  Eurgh, I thought to myself, Antigone as a family dispute or, equally mistaken, Antigone as Sophie Scholl.

But things improved:  the play began to bite about the famous nothing so wonderful as man chorus, and the confrontations between Antigone and Creon came off well, each as adamantine as the other in the true Sophoclean fashion.  George Siena’s depiction of Creon in the guise of a  giant black crow was striking and rather overshadowed the Antigone of Lisa Stuart, which doesn’t often happen.  The physical theatre conventions also began to exert a pull, with Creon being reduced to a helplessly crawling  thing by the rushing vatic force of the accusatory speech by Tiresias (Johan Buckingham).

Some attempts at singing in Modern Greek met with a mixed reception from the Greek schoolkids behind me–Anne Malone (Musician) was allowed to escape unscathed, while the contribution from one of the three chorus members (Chris Gunter, I think) was adjudged terribly funny.  Actually those children weren’t bad critics–they stayed silent during the parts I really wanted to hear…

So at the end the curse of naturalism had been averted and while the conventions of physical theatre are not would I have chosen to keep it away they were pretty effective.  I suppose everyone went home convinced that Sophocles had penned a ringing justification of individual liberty, but that’s a modern audience for you…

Media partners

The programme contained a copy of a fax to the producer, Anastasia Revi, from the Greek Government–it took me a very long time to notice that there was a translation on the other side.  The Riverside online booking page has a link to the Oxford Classics Outreach site, while the play is also promoted on euGreeka (devoted to Greek events in London and elsewhere–looked jolly interesting to me).