Preview: The Oresteia

Alex Sorgo 28 January 2018

The Oresteia, the seminal Greek tragedy, is a sure to be a highlight in the calendars of many Classicists and English students. The Trojan War is over but the conflict is far from finished. Imagine a melting pot in the centre of an Ancient Greek amphitheatre – the epicentre of Bacchanalian celebration and theatrical competition – and throw into the mix a husband sent to war, the sacrifice of a daughter by her own father, a revenge-driven wife, adultery, fighting and infighting. The scene is set for a trilogy of plays, all ensuing and passing on from one another, building upon the same family and interlacing the same themes and issues. Aeschylus' famed tragic trilogy tells the story of a family at war with each other, husband against wife, son against mother, wife against husband, wife against son, mother defending daughter and son defending father: a cycle of blood is evoked and the question is: will it ever end? 

Directed by Myles O'Gorman and produced by Gaia Fay Lambert, this play promises to be one incredibly emotional experience – certainly the short episode I was lucky enough to see heightened my emotions! Based on Peter Brook's staging technique, using an empty space, a theatrical void of props or set, the focus is solely upon the emotion and the raw soul of the piece, as it would have been in the traditional Greek amphitheatre where props, costumes, and set were sparse and limited. As Myles tells me, they've chosen to 'remove al the faff and spectacle of it' to enable the character development, to heighten the dramatic tension, and to draw explicit attention to the drama of emotion: ' Its all on white stage, like a blank slate, a blank canvas, on which the souls of the characters and the soul of piece can be resurrected.' Myles tells me, and so I see for myself from photos and plans of the stage that he kindly shows to enlighten me.

They have used an old verse translation from the 1920s yet have workshopped and adapted, therefore with rehearsals depending largely on improv technique. Yet this technique has, it appears, allow them to truly grasp hold of the essence of the piece, to analyse and open up the verse language, interrogating and questioning everything that lies behind it and therefore allowing the intricate psychologies of character to evolve and unfold before the audience's eyes.

The characters that I see acting – Agamemnon and Clytemnestra – certainly do demonstrate a high level of clear insight and development. Inge-Vera Lipsius's depiction of Clytemnestra manages to capture a mother's anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, a sense of betrayal and a determined mad revenge in the few words that she speaks in the rehearsal that I was a fly on the wall at. The scene that I am lucky enough to see is that of the opening prologue. Whereas traditionally, a chorus would narrate this, the role of the chorus – and all ensuing choral odes – has been condensed and cut into one single yet psychologically developed character. Maya Yousif's role as 'The Chorus' is definitely promising to fulfil such a concept. Her voicing of dialogue offers variation in tone and volume, clarity of comprehension, and moreover a beautiful ekphrasical motion towards describing the 'off-stage' scenes of violence and betrayal. To underpin this choral description of narrative, Myles has chosen to dramatise flashbacks in the background, showing scenes that would have been in the past and are merely being recalled for audience information. I get to witness this in action as the drama surrounding Iphigenia's sacrifice unfolds before me, and I leave the rehearsal space to a gloomy sky and torrential rain outside and cannot help but carry the sense of fear and dread evoked in the drama along with me, merged with excitement and anticipation at seeing the entire play in action on stage at the ADC!

The Oresteia is on at the ADC Theatre from Tuesday 30 January to Saturday 3 February.