EFR - Reviews of Oresteia

Oresteia

Mon 5th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 10:11 on 10th Aug 2013

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Transposed to Las Vegas, where the fall of Troy is the fall of a casino; we enter the theatre to the dulcet sounds of ‘Niggas in Paris’. This is an intriguing piece of new writing and a slick production, however there were a few elements which were off-balance.

MacKeith has used the general outline of Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy. His use of modern language is a bold move, and it works - for the most part. Helen of Troy became a computer programme, so that Agamemnon’s complaint that ‘she didn’t recognise me’ introduces a clever translation of how what we term valuable has shifted over time.

At times the writing feels choppy: for example, the scene where we flit, confusingly, between Clytemnestra and the Watchmen. We were also met by the occasional glib line, such as Electra’s ‘Hi Orestes, let’s go kill mum’. This use of language and dark humour deliberately pushes the play towards farce. I enjoyed this element, however, this premise needed to be introduced earlier in order to sit with the beginning of the play.

Another problem that I had with the script was it’s strange attitude towards women. Electra, obsessed by killing people on video games, enlists Orestes’ help because it would be ‘icky’ if she killed her mother. Orestes turns out to be incapable of doing the deed, so she pulls the trigger herself. In this context, Orestes seemed fairly pointless.

The use of quick black-outs and shadowy up-lighting gave the piece an intensely cinematic feel. Throughout this performance I was thinking how much better it would work as a film script. With just Jay-Z to set the scene, the script cried out for extensive set to evoke the atmosphere of Las Vegas. I felt this need for cinema most keenly when Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon; there’s no build-up. If filmed, we could have zoomed-in, seen her facial expressions, the slip of the hand, and this would have enabled MacKeith to build tension more effectively.

There were some extremely strong performances, especially by Mackeith himself as a self-assured Apollo. Hellie Cranney as chorus leader was absorbing to watch; she perfectly captured the strange predicament of being both insider and outsider. Laura Batey was unconvincing as Cassandra, but hit the mark with her exaggerated game-show host Athena. I also wasn’t sure that Ellie Nunn, as Clytemnestra, could kill - she gripped the knife limply, her arm clenched to her side.

This was an interesting translation with a talented team behind it. I particularly enjoyed the use of the video-game metaphor to emphasise the surreal world of Greek tragedy and escalation of violence. However, this script and production needs some significant tweaks before it makes for excellent theatre.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:16 on 10th Aug 2013

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Alex MacKeith’s modern adaptation of one of Aeschylus’ Greek revenge sagas had moments of sheer genius. Unfortunately it also had moments where it failed to hit the mark entirely.

The transformation of the Fall of Troy to the warring casino clans of Vegas was remarkably successful – more than a chuckle spread across the audience when it was announced that H.E.L.E.N. is a computer system. It was refreshing to see that none of the cast or crew felt the need to be reverent towards their classical source, and, in refusing to take themselves too seriously, they have created a production that is fascinating to watch.

Henry Jenkinson is well cast as the tortured Agamemnon, easy and natural in his first address to the audience and the embodiment of presidential insincerity during the ‘press conference’ – where we, aptly, are the journalists. Unfortunately his chemistry with Ellie Nunn as Clytemnestra is lacking. Nunn comes into her own when wielding a knife at her husband, in others places suffering under stilted dialogue, and struggling with the many layers needed from her. She would benefit from a calmer approach, one of white-hot power bubbling underneath a still surface, as her revenge lacked the retribution and release it needed.

The supporting cast were further examples of exceptionally original characterisations - some more successful than others. Andy Room and Alex MacKeith were perfectly balanced as the pair of Watchmen. Room, with all the fear and energy of a young boy, seemed out of place discussing his wife, but in contrast with MacKeith’s stoic guard brought moments of real comedy to the piece. Hellie Cranney was an ingenious transformation of the chorus of elders into a slot-machine-playing, visor-wearing, cliché of a Nevada pensioner, and her lines are delivered with impeccable comic timing.

Ellen Robertson as Elektra is a joy to watch: sinister, cold, and precociously metatheatrical, Robertson is doing a fantastic job of channelling Chloe Moretz. James Evans as Orestes occasionally got carried away with ad-libbing, something a lot of the cast were guilty of. Whilst I may not have liked this touch, the rest of the audience positively encouraged it – as with many of my issues with the play, it all comes down to personal taste.

I, personally, found the closing sequence, ‘Trial by Furies’, to be an extremely clever idea delivered badly. I understood the parody of daytime TV the cast were going for, but I found the script laboured, cringe-inducing at points, and not in the right way. MacKeith’s transformation from stoic guard to silver-tongued Apollo shows great versatility, but the introduction of his character was clumsy, and the conclusion of Orestes’ fate rushed. The concept of this production was original, intelligent, and entertaining. The reality failed to fully live up to its potential.

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