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The Oresteia, Riverside Studios

Aeschylus, translated by Ted Hughes
Directed by Anastasia Revi

Pros: An engaging production of a Greek classic with some great imagery and stylisation. Will keep you entertained.

Cons: Sometimes goes over the top and veers towards melodrama.

Our Verdict: Worth the trip if your want to catch an entertaining version of a rarely-performed classic.

Courtesy of Anna Soderblom

A two and a half hour long production recounting the ins and outs of a three-generation-long family feud was never going to be an easy sell. Greek classic or not, The Oresteia is a play (or rather a trilogy of plays), which might never have the crowd-drawing status of Phèdre or Antigone. The choice of Aeschylus’ mythological tryptich is a brave one for the Threatre Lab Company, a London-based company founded by Greek artists. It’s a tough story to tell, especially hard to perform and one which is usually reserved for Classicists and academics, out of reach of the general public. The challenge for this production is whether it can really engage the audience, and crucially, keep them engaged through to the resolution of the bloody vendetta. Did Anastasia Revi and her cast succeed? This will be up to each audience member to decide, but no-one can doubt they did a damn good job of trying.

Ted Hughes’ translation of Aeschylus’ trilogy of tragedies hasn’t been staged in the UK since it graced the boards of the National Theatre in 1999. That was back in the days when most people needed to unplug their phones to access the internet, and terror loomed at the thought that the dreaded Y2K bug would summon an army of computers to enslave humanity. Funny as it might sound today, this gives a scale of how rarely The Oresteia are performed. It is, none the less, a fairly well-known story. Agamemnon has distroyed Troy and returns victorious to Argos (yes, very funny…) where he is killed by his wife Clytemnestra, incited by her lover (Agamemnon’s cousin), who wants to avenge his father’s humiliation at the hands of… ok, maybe this isn’t the simplest plot in the world, but long story short The Oresteia follows the vendetta originally started by two borthers each trying to get to the throne. A series of cross-generational murders ensue, the Gods get involved, the Furies get upset… finally order is restored when the vendetta system is replaced by a proper court based on reason rather than emotion, and the whole of humanity learns a valuable lesson in conflict resolution (thanks Athena).

This production does its very best to make this fairly convoluted story accessible to the general public. They offer a very stylised performance, with very rich symbolism and the characters helpfully colour-coded in their modernised costumes. This heavy imagery is often delightful to watch (for instance the use of lipstick and red rope by the Furies) but sometime veers into the realm of over-the-top (why is Apollo juggling tangerines?), and at points is totally incomprehesible – in the case of an unexplained eletronic metronome, whose purpose and meaning will forever remain a mystery to me. Despite these few points, TLC’s production has the merit of never leaving you bored – a sometimes difficult task with tragedies from antiquity. Revi deserves a huge round of applause for her creative and inventive, often risky staging.

There were also some great performances to look out for, albeit some teeter on the brink of melodrama. However, they are forgiven for this on the grounds that Greek tragedy is always played larger than life. For instance, Kitty Paitazoglou gives a hair-raising rendition of Cassandra, whose prophetic episode is reminiscent of the more terrifying scenes from The Exorcist. Special mentions also go out to Claire Porter, who delivers a very strong portrayal of Clytemnestra, and Denise Moreno, who sensually leads the Furies in their pursuit of Orestes. Overall, each cast-member had something to offer, not only as individuals, but also as an ensemble.

To sum up, this production of The Oresteia is very daring. Sometimes, it goes too far and loses credibility, but we forgive this because of the intent: to capture and focus the audience’s attention on a fascinating but underperformed piece. It is easy to see why this company has received plaudits in the past. It is because they take risks. As a result, they have created an incredibly engaging enterpretation of The Oresteia, which you should head down to the Riverside Studios to catch if you get a chance.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Oresteia runs at the Riverside Studios until 24th March 2012

Box Office: 020 8237 1111 or book online at http://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/cgi-bin/page.pl?l=1323097160

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