The Oresteia – a review
Belt Up Theatre were at York Theatre Royal to perform Aeschylus‘ The Oresteia, a trilogy of plays that were first performed in Athens in 458BC.
The Oresteia follows the fortunes of the house of Atreus. The first play, Agamemnon, portrays the victorious return of that king from the Trojan War and his murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. The second play, Choephoroi (The Libation Bearers), deals with Agamemnon’s daughter Electra and his son Orestes. Orestes avenges his father’s murder by killing his mother and her lover. The third play, Eumenides, shows Orestes driven by the Furies (Erinyes), for, though he was required to avenge his father’s death, a matricide is infamous in the eyes of the gods.
And quite a strange and controversial performance it was. I suppose a translation of an ancient Greek tragedy should carry some responsibility for its acceptance and enjoyment by a modern audience. But to do that and at the same time preserve and enhance the original meaning and wider ambitions of its conception is perhaps too much to ask.
This translation and production will not, I suspect, be praised by lovers of traditional Greek drama. On the other hand there were, in the audience, a goodly number of teenagers, most of whom looked as if they would have been more at home in a scary movie. It would have been interesting to talk to some of them after the show. There was blood aplenty, over-the-top physical action from a young and dynamic cast, risqué jokes and wordplay, and zombies and ghosts enough for the imaginative life of the most wayward of adolescents.
I enjoyed it enormously, but came away wondering exactly what had been sacrificed by a production so intent on humour. When a play is still doing the rounds after two-and-a-half-thousand years, I suspect it has something more going for it.