As part of a festival celebrating Ancient Greek theatre, the Almeida Greeks showcased Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Being one of the only examples of Ancient Greek tragedies to survive, how can you expect someone in the 21st century to understand what is going on in the play? Don’t be put off with the concept of an ancient play; the relevance of it is still prominent in our modern society. The issues faced in the play such as revenge, trust and justice are all elements that we still face. Robert Icke took creative direction to adapt this ancient story into a modern performance. It’s been so successful that, after a sell-out production at Almeida Theatre, it has been transferred to the West End at the Trafalgar Studios.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience is exposed to an eerie ambience created by the constant ticking of the clock that is projected over on the stage. The minimalism to the set, neutrality in lighting as well as the selection of music had reflected the production techniques that were also displayed in Icke’s critically acclaimed adaption of George Orwell’s 1984 at the West End. It successfully helped to create an atmospheric setting that enticed the audience.
The play sees the king, Agamemnon, experiencing visions of a prophecy that would enable the ongoing war to conclude to their victory. The echoing of “the child is the price” distresses the audience in realising that this prophecy depicts the need for the Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. This horrifying act then stimulates a downward spiral of chaotic events such as his wife Clytemnestra taking revenge and brutally murdering Agamemnon. Throughout, Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, tries to deal with the trauma of his dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, this psychological pain only fuels Orestes’ outrage and pushes him to murder his mother. The play up until this point makes the murders justifiable, however, Orestes’ act of revenge by murdering his mother deems more of an atrocity. This unsettling uproar is due to the idea the play brings upon its audience, stating that a child cannot murder his own parents. This is due to the connection the parents have to the divine; they’re not just people, they’re creators, they’re mythic.
Despite the duration of the play (3 hours and 40 minutes), the ending had provoked many ideas and questions to ponder about. It made you think about the disruption to the social order, family feuds, the construction of law and how can justice be implemented. Oresteia simply cannot be missed.
Catch Oresteia at the West End before it concludes on the 7th November!