The Oresteia: preview

Art & Lit Stage

Four stars

1st – 4th June – 7:30 pm, 2:30 Saturday

O’Reilly

Tickets: £7/£6

Ramin Sabi is to be congratulated on his new adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia, for which he is both writer and director. The preview scenes were full of quotable lines, right from the start as the chorus make arch comments about the expected intelligence of their audience (though don’t be worried if you haven’t memorised the original Greek. They do explain. Eventually.) The production itself seems very slick – the set is well defined, and the acting almost always has the precision of movement and focus of actual performance. Abi Rees looks all set to be particularly striking as Clytemnestra, while Bobby Leigh-Pemberton has great gravitas as Agamemnon, though at one moment he failed to completely pull together word and action as he debated the sacrifice of Iphigenia while tying and retying a red tie.

The chorus are a dynamic group of actors, easily moving from classical declamation to a tutorial-style argument without breaking their clearly defined characters. Chorus leader Olivia Barber stood out as the know-it-all you don’t want your tutorial with. The most conscious of classical tradition, her leadership and trust in Fate, Justice, and the Gods is at odds with the practical responses of Isabella Wilson, whose softer, nuanced tone brings out the humanity beyond the exposition. Hannah Gliksten showed some great versatility, passing briefly moment as a shallow Helen of Troy, declaring herself gorgeous (obviously), before “dropping the act”. She soon resurfaces as a near-psychotic Electra, revelling in the death of Aegisthus and viciously cursing her mother. It is clear that the chorus of Sabi’s Oresteia are as much a part of the action as the main characters, and their ultimate progression into the Furies of the third Act carries this idea to fruition.

There is a constant enjoyable friction between reality and the artifice of Greek theatre built into the production. At times Greek action and declamation is set against realistic modern response – a similar contrast, we were told, is to be shown in the costuming to render the setting timeless. At other points the chorus become wilfully meta-textual, and the whole of the third act seems invented by the chorus to give themselves closure.

Perhaps the most startling realisation of this interplay comes in Sabi taking on the role of Orestes, due to lack of an actor, in a moment that consciously recognises him as director. While this moment was not presented, echoes of it were present throughout his performance, and bear heavily on the understanding of Fate within the play. It’s hard to tell how this change has altered the meanings of the play – it certainly puts Orestes’ hysteria on a par with the feigned madness of Hamlet, complete with incongruous moments of lucidity – and whether it will remain part of the play after this run. Indeed, there are still a few questions to be asked of this production, most of which should be answered in the scenes omitted from the preview. How does strong Clytemnestra fall for such a plainly deceptive Aegisthus? Why do the women of the play accept their deaths off stage, while the men scream and struggle? But all in all, this looks set to be a very clever and very enjoyable re-imagining of Aeschylus’ trilogy.

— Sarah Gashi, Frankie Goodway