Pros: A larger-than-life epic that still resonates after two millennia.
Cons: All future adaptations of Greek Drama I will ever see will now be compared to this.
Robert Icke’s staging of all three parts of Aeschylus’ tragic drama is nothing short of epic. It is the sort of theatre that is so brilliant that its sheer scale and ambition can leave audience members feeling dwarfed by its genius. Yet it is at times anxiety-inducing and so disconcerting that certain scenes leave your stomach in knots.
At just under four hours, Oresteia feels at best like a mini-marathon of the HBO series The Sopranos. More than two millennia old, Aeschylus’ saga about a family at war and the endless search for justice has not lost its relevance. In fact, it resonates more than ever.
However, it is easy to get caught up in the grandness of Greek drama. The genius in Icke’s production is his being able to contain his play’s vastness into the tiny Almeida theatre space. Hildegard Bechtler’s minimalist design that doubles as the family home and courtroom scene is what great theatre design is all about – leaving the audience to fill in the blanks and paint the picture for themselves. The grey colour scheme evokes the mood of Soviet-era authoritarian regimes. Tom Gibbon’s sound design feels so systematically chaotic that the scarier soundscapes towards the latter end of the play are almost bloodcurdling. I loved it!
The genius and strength of the creative team aside, Icke’s production owes a lot to the quality of his actors. Lia Williams’ performance as Klytemnestra is craftily nuanced. The advantage of being able to perform in all three plays in the one performance is that each actor is able to scale the heights Aeschylus intended. Williams’ character begins as the doting mother and loving politician’s wife who descends into a murderous rage in her quest to find justice. Angus Wright begins his performance as Agamemnon in a similar fashion, although his performance as the man who (SPOILER ALERT!) kills his daughter and disappears off to war later leaves him exhausted and wishing himself peace. Annie Firbank’s duteous family maid is on stage often but does not speak much. However it is a credit to Firbank’s acting that her character continuously strides with purpose and intent.
A good production of Oresteia rests on the excellence of its child actors. The child actors here all clearly talented beyond their years. It is testament to Icke’s skills as a director in being able to craft such a fine show from such an ambitious project. He has chosen his creative team and company very well. The only downfall of this performance is that all future adaptations of Greek Drama I ever see will be compared to this! I really look forward to seeing what Icke comes up with next.
Apart from asking the big questions of us, Aeschylus’ drama shows us just how complex it can be to make moral decisions. There is a scene towards the end of the play where the court is tied as to whether Orestes is to be found guilty or not guilty. I truly thought the judge was going to ask one of the audience members to cast the deciding vote. I clearly need to brush up on my ancient Greek drama.
Put simply, this is a marathon performance of a bloody saga with very impressive acting. It is verification that although the few surviving Greek dramas are larger than life, they will forever continue to resonate
Director: Robert Icke
Translation by: Robert Icke
Producer: Almeida Theatre
Booking Until: 18 July 2015
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: http://www.almeida.co.uk/whats-on/oresteia/29-may-2015-18-jul-2015#open-calendar