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Posts Tagged ‘Joel MacCormack’

After a 34-year absence from the London stage, we have two Oresteia’s at the same time. This one follows the Almeida’s, now at the Trafalgar Studios, and has the added interest of being a 2500 year old play staged in a replica of a 400-year old theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the first thing that struck me was that this theatre shares much with the stages of ancient Greece. The arc of the space is like an amphitheatre. The mortals can look up to the open sky to address the gods. By bringing the platform forward, with steps the full width down into the groundling space, it looks very much like a temple, which came into its own in the final play.

My second thought was how extraordinary that two writers can take the same Aeschylus starting point and produce very different adaptations. Here Rory Mullarkey doesn’t add a prequel about Iphigenia’s sacrifice but uses the chorus’ long prologue to set the scene. In fact, in this first play it’s a long while before we meet Clytemnestra, and even longer before Agamemnon returns from the Trojan wars. The chorus are much more than narrators and onlookers, becoming actual citizens, with some playing individual unnamed roles. When Agamemnon does finally arrive, he’s dispatched off-stage before we get the results on-stage! Katy Stephens is terrific as Clytemnestra, a woman possessed, intent on revenge, and Trevor Fox is a brilliant Aegisthus, a real user and a louche.

In the second play, Orestes returns to get his revenge on his mother and her lover, and the character of the chorus changes somewhat, with the use of three-sided masks at one point. The murders are again off-stage and Orestes enters with the bodies (a recycling of Agamemnon’s!). Here, Electra seemed much less of a presence than she was in the Almeida version. I very much liked Joel MacCormack’s passionate Orestes.

In the final play Orestes is tried by Athena with a jury, somewhat appropriately, made up of local citizens. Here we encounter The Furies, brilliantly presented as gothic, highly strung and somewhat childlike creatures. This play seems to have been edited the most, with advocacy by Apollo but little debate before Athena uses her casting vote following a split jury. Again, the role of women in society comes up and today the plays seem sexist, even misogynistic.

The treatment is lighter than the earnest, clinical Almeida version, with many touches of humour (some unintended, I suspect) and the end result feels like a very different trilogy based on the same story. I actually liked both in their own way and I’m glad they turned out so different given they were only three months apart. Not only was this the second Oresteia, but my eighth Greek tragedy this year. Roll on the Almeida’s Medea later in the month.

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