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House of Atreus, Waterloo East Theatre

Based on The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus

Adapted by Ozlem Ozhabes
Directed by Kaitlin Argeaux
Pros: A very enjoyable, visually pleasing and strongly emotional performance driven by innovative direction and some cracking performances that leave you wanting more, even if Greek tragedy is not normally your thing.
Cons: Given how well the dance and physical movements worked overall, it’s a shame that at times the pace seemed to slow down and the chorus became somewhat static, especially in the first act.
Our Verdict: A well-executed, emotionally charged and innovative take on this classic Aeschylus psychological tragedy with some gripping performances and enough sweat, blood and Eros to keep you tight in your cosy seat till the dramatic ending.
Courtesy of Theatre Libre
Théâtre Libre, a company born in 2009 that specializes in physical theatre, was no doubt going to set its own bar pretty high. Under the daring direction of bright young thing Kaitlin Argeaux, a US-bred London adoptee with a penchant for escaping clichés, this adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers takes the usual plot suspects – murder, vengeance, angry Gods, Trojan warfare, incestuous brotherly love, moral dilemmas and bloodshed – to a whole new, physical level. I soon pictured Aeschylus himself grinning with anticipation, waiting to see his darling chorus creating scenographic wonders with the use of rhythmic movements, limb waves, run-arounds and youthful passion. It was not going to be an easy task, but I admired the director’s courage even before seeing the show.
Waterloo East Theatre on a freezing Wednesday night presented itself as the perfect backdrop for this performance. A cosy, warm, darkly lit brick and steel space carved out of the railway arches close to Waterloo East Station. Despite the cold, I was pleased to see there were enough attentive audience to feel comfortably in good company.
The show starts with a beautifully executed choral breathing and movement exercise. I was transported straight into a state of anguish and doom, alas the perfect emotional place to be in the opening scene of a tragedy: Orestes (played by Orestis Sophocleous), having returned in disguise to Argos, is paying tribute to his murdered father Agamennone’s grave. With him dressed in jeans and taking his little rucksack around, and his sister Electra (Lucia Young) boasting a humble Hellenic gown, the characters are fittingly placed somewhere in between 2500 years of history. Similarly, the facelessness of the mask-wearing chorus made sure that I continued to enjoy the beauty of their synchronized movements, whilst my mind was free to wander on an emotional journey made of vengeance, murderous rage, lust and startling moral dilemmas.
Strong performances came from most of the actors, led by talented Orestis Sophocleous. He flawlessly manages to bring out the bewildering array of emotions that must be going through the heart of a son whose mission is to kill his own mother and her lover and bring to an end a century-long curse over their family. His struggle is evident in every change of heart, carrying a fate he cannot escape. Lucia Young’s Electra is also strong, if not slightly underwhelming at times, starting in frail innocence and culminating in an increasingly powerful, sexually charged, incestuous encouragement to murder their mother at the height of drama. Cheska Moon’s Clytemnestra is sheer magnificence, her cruel beauty and elegance permeating in every step and phrase, reaching the perfect climax during the deadly embrace with her son weeping on her naked breast, symbolizing the struggle of life and death, compassion and vengeance, love and hatred. Arguably, the perfectly executed cutting of her throat is the highlight of the tragedy, magically enhanced by the rumble of a passing train that made me wonder whether it had all been slickly timed by Apollo himself!
The chorus of slaves, led by Sonnie Beckett, was also very strong overall. Sadly, especially towards the end of the first half, the pace slowed down to a point where I wondered if the dynamic spin had been lost already. However, it quickly picked up again in the second half and overall their individual performance and direction was delightful. Finally, a deserved mention for both James William’s Ageisthus, who perfectly matched Clytemnestras’ elegance and whose Tango moves made the male audience instantly jealous, and for Joan Plunkett’s moving portrayal of a distraught yet lucid nurse.
Overall, a well-executed and certainly innovative performance of an all-time classic by Théâtre Libre. Well worth seeing.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The House of Atreus runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 27th January 2013.
Box Office: 020 7928 0060 or book online at http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/house%20of%20atreus.html

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