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The Oresteia – a review

Belt Up Theatre were at York Theatre Royal to perform AeschylusThe 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.

4 Responses to “The Oresteia – a review”

  1. Thomas says:

    Since you would like to talk to one of the teenagers that, and I quote “most of whom looked as if they would have been more at home in a scary movie” now is your chance. I was at the theatre that night and will answer any questions you have.
    Thankyou
    Thomas Ryalls
    P.S. I know I probably wont get a reply to this but if you do reply, please do by e-mail (thomasryalls@hotmail.com)

    jb says: OK, Thomas, there’s an email in the post to you.

  2. Rebecca Smith says:

    After reading your review, i disagree.
    Although Belt Up theatre’s interpretation on Oresteia wasn’t played as traditional Greek tragedy, i thoroughly enjoyed the performance. They kept the audience captivated and worked the little space they had well. I was there on that night and happened to be one of the ‘goodly number of teenagers, most of whom looked as if they would have been more at home in a scary movie’, and i am studying Drama for a GCSE. The styles used were exactly what we need to study for our devised piece.

    Thank you,
    Rebecca Smith
    Age 15

    jb says: Hi Rebecca, thanks for the comment. When the performance was over we were sitting in the bar and saying how good it would have been to have the reactions of some of the teenagers, so it was good that you dropped by.
    I’d be interested if you have more thoughts about the performance, for instance I wondered if the characterization of the furies could have been a little more subtle?

  3. Thomas.k. says:

    hi i was there that night and i you have any questions then ask and i think some of the teenagers there were mature enough to under stand the play and it was a great preformance the best i’ve seen any way so any questions or anything like that then email me.

    jb says: Hi Thomas. There’s an email on the way.

  4. kelly L. says:

    i’m doing a play in school about orestes any tips!?!