Review: Oresteia

Alex Sorgo 31 January 2018

This production of the famous Greek Tragedy left a lot to be desired. Though the set design was creative and the cast were clearly very able, it sadly did not come together.

The plot of the Oresteia needs no introduction: it’s a three part tragedy following the family of Agamemnon son of Atreus as he returns home from the Trojan War. A complex ethical situation is triggered in the first part as Clytemnestra, his wife, murders him for sacrificing her daughter before the war, leaving it Orestes’, her son, duty to murder her in turn in the second part in order to avenge her father. In the final part, Orestes must stand trial in front of Athena for his actions in order to cleanse himself of the crime of killing his mother.

The play was unaided by the choice of translation. Ift was a clunky and old-fashioned version that, though intended to replicate the verse of the original, made many lines in the performance just as incomprehensible as the Ancient Greek would have been. To their credit, the cast attempted to make the most of the text: special mention must go to Rachel Kitts as the often disbelieved prophet Cassandra who clearly articulated her sad fate with great feeling. Anabelle Haworth who played Electra delivered an emotional performance reminiscent of the Electra played by Kristin Scott Thomas at the Old Vic in 2014 while the one-woman chorus of Maya Yousif worked surprisingly well in no small part because of her eloquence and stage presence.

It is difficult to criticize the leads, Clytemnestra (Inge-Vera Lipsius) and Orestes (Jamie Sayers) as most of their important lines were drowned out by the size or layout of the set and the inappropriate music which had a very 80s feel and completely clashed with the set, costuming and the entire feel of the play. Some of their lines were emphasised by blinding flashes of light which, though effective in theory, felt like unnecessary assaults on the audience’s eyes. Nonetheless, the strength of the cast shone through, particularly in Clytemnestra’s case by their gesturing and posture which were positively regal.

On the one hand, some scenes were fairly well executed which was a testament to the cast’s ability to create drama. On the other, some scenes tried to do too much and failed. The build-up to the murder of Agamemnon was gripping but severely let down by a blast of music at the crunch point which felt utterly irrelevant and shattered the atmosphere. The music and the mismanagement of the set left the gods Apollo and Athena, who should have had a strong stage presence, a little underwhelming despite every effort being made with the costuming.

The set was both the downfall and the saving grace of the production – from the very start you saw right through to the bricks of the ADC which was very different and striking and so visually it worked quite well. However, the size of the set had a negative impact on the sound quality while the cast never seemed to effectively use the space nor fully get to grips with the set itself.

Overall, it felt as though the director, Myles O’Gorman, had not sat down in front of the play and seen it from an audience perspective: from the sound, to the absolutely blinding lights it felt badly thought through though certainly I could see how the concepts would have worked very well in theory. Stage directions were poor: lots of cast often had their backs turned to the audience when they were speaking which didn’t do anything for the show nor the poor sound. 

Comment must be passed on the ending, a painfully long scene where each member of the cast descends under the stage with a piece of which cloth and re-emerges with a blood soaked one. This ending would probably bamboozle the best English students (it certainly has this Classicist) and felt overly long drawn out and didn’t seem to really make sense with the ending of the play which has just cleaned Orestes of the blood on his hands through trial.

If you have never seen an adaptation of the Oresteia before, it is certainly worth going and seeing this one for the visual effects and the true telling of the story. Nevertheless, do read a summary before-hand so you can follow the story.