Staging an Ancient Greek play in its original language would probably not go very well in the West End. Yet the Oxford University Classical Drama Society, which produces a Greek play every three years, clearly did not neglect their lines just because few members of the audience would know whether they were speaking them properly or not. The text they learnt, along with Aeschylus’ stylised metre, was no trivial accomplishment.
It is often practically impossible to take an ancient text and be able immediately to sense Clytemnestra or Electra as one might A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois. Unfortunately Raymond Blakenhorn layered the statement of “this is a serious drama” on text that was already dramatic. The chorus danced around Orestes, removing some of his outer clothing; having killed his mother, he hung out a blood-stained cloth. This marvel of a play, already full of action, was here outwardly, ostentatiously dramatic. The audience is aware that The Libation Bearers is a tragic play: there is no need for the actors to be constantly echoing this in their voices.
That said, the way in which they shaped their performances was finely done. The metre was all captured, and the chorus (of whom, according to the programme, three-fifths have never studied Greek), created an ensemble which was the drive of this production. Never through the whole spectacle was there a movement or a gesture out of sync among any of the actors, and there was a strong effort to feel lines and not just to pronounce them.
Particularly impressive in terms of performance was Jack Noutch’s change of tone and usage of rhythm in his role of Orestes – never allowing strict metre to prevent him from his acting. Lucy Jackson cast a domineering, powerful shadow as Clytemnestra. Smaller roles such as Aegisthus and the Slave were admittedly more characteristically drawn, with Nicolas West acting as a conniving charmer, and Tim Foot shaping his phrases to make them seem less authoritative in his role of the slave.
Overall this was a slick production with the hearts of all the cast and crew clearly in it. Considering this play was first written over 2500 years ago, it was a powerful attempt to bring back the realism which ought to have terrified its audiences, even if its ostentatious presentation unfortunately didn’t quite cut it.