The Furies

Sun 16th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Mel Beckerleg

at 13:38 on 22nd Aug 2015

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The Furies, Aeschylus’ dramatic tale of Orestes, hounded by the deities of vengeance for killing his mother, is played out vividly in Durham Student Theatre’s production. Exploring the role of justice within civilisation, it’s a classic melodrama, though a little rough around the edges.

As someone unfamiliar with the first two instalments of the Aeschylus’ trilogy, I have to confess I spent the first couple of scenes with little idea what was unfolding before me, and wondering whether there would ever come a point when I would understand. The opening speech left me completely in the dark both figuratively and literally, as the stage is barely lit by a dim red glow that leaves you squinting through the gloom at the performers.

The Furies do make for an impressive spectacle, writhing disturbingly across the stage and pawing at the audience. With fierce, unflinching eyes and some fantastic facial expressions, they are convincingly threatening in their savage quest for vengeance. Still, as the mania heightens, the performance toes a very fine line between the grotesque and the comical.

The arrival of Athena (Isabella Price) brings some coherence to the performance, and not just because the lights are finally turned up. The gentle majesty of Price’s performance makes her an inspiring female figure. Her calming presence facilitates the triumph of a new kind of justice over blind vengeance.

In general though, the acting is pretty hit-and-miss. Orestes (Michael Yates) is hard to gauge, wavering between self-righteous arrogance and nervousness – his continued insistence that he is innocent, and his fear at the attacks of the furies are both unconvincing.

The performance is strikingly physical, though at times the dance routines are clumsy and jumbled. For an in-the-round stage, there’s also a little too much time spent standing very close to individual audience members and excluding the rest.

The singing is superb, truly honing the passionate imagery of the text. In fact, music is one of the show’s real assets, with Naomi Wilmshurt on the violin and Rob Collins (musical director) on the mandola. There are points when the chorus drown out the words, but the sound is too beautiful to much care.

So whilst you may not follow every line, the play’s gripping and vividly poetic presentation offers a full-on experience of a classic text.

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Holly Harper

at 18:19 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Leo Mylonadis’ adaption of The Furies is a thrilling retelling of the tragic mythological story originally penned by Aeschylus. The Ethrael Theatre Company’s exploration of justice and its meaning in the world of Ancient Greece is both passionate and palpable. For those whom, like me, know little of classical literature, this is by no means the finest introduction to the complex world of Ancient Greek mythology.

Despite attempts at the beginning of the play to clarify context through a narrator, it was easy to be distracted by the splattering of contorted female bodies that remained uncomfortably motionless throughout the opening monologue. Indeed, as the play continues it becomes patent that the narrative was compromised for the sake of performance, the Furies and their hellish domination of the stage can be seen most obviously in their absence when the drama is left to carry itself quite inadequately. This is a haunting piece of drama at its most powerful when the intimate stage is populated with the choric anger and beauty of the Furies.

The brilliance of the play pinged on its immersive staging that managed to bring the audience into its discussion of justice. Discomfort became the norm for audience members that encompassed the stage: clambering over bodies to find seats only to find a person on the floor where your feet should be was only the beginning of this hour of theatre in which you were made to feel as if, like Orestes, you’d also killed your mother.

The Furies were wretched beauties whose collective voices, in both speech and song, carried the performance, even if it did appear incongruous with the rest of the action in some parts.

This well directed collective performance by the women surpassed the performances of the two men, played by Michael Yates in the role of Oreste and Wesley Milligan as Apollo. However, this is more to do with the difficulties of the play itself than the actors. This is a piece of drama relies almost too heavily on visuality, movement and music, and whilst all of this is directed with proficiency, the rest of the performance paled in comparison. A theatrical spectacle and a powerful experience, with a problematic play the Company succeeded in creating something of real beauty.

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