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Posts Tagged ‘Katy Stephens’

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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On the same day I expressed a view that a lot of new plays at The Globe have disappointed, along comes one of the best new plays they’ve ever done, and one of the best WWI centenary commemorations.

Howard Brenton has chosen to stage the story of a pioneering plastic surgeon called Harold Gillies who developed his skin graft treatments in the first world war, rebuilding the faces of soldiers injured at the front. An eccentric character, he had an alter ego called Dr Scroggy who dealt with his patients morale by dressing up as a caricatured Scotsman to deliver alcohol and cheer after hours. This was as much to do with keeping his own spirits up, having to see his patients return to the front once more.

It also tells the story of one of his patients, Jack Twigg, a working class lad who’s got to Oxford but gives it up to volunteer for service. He’s befriended by a young peer through whom he gets both a prestigious posting as an aide de camp and a posh girl, but he gives up both for glory – twice.

Of course, it’s also telling us a lot about the First World War itself, and that is why the play succeeds – weaving these three threads together to provide a very satisfying dramatic experience, and blending the serious with humour to make it entertaining too.

Like Blue Stockings before it, this period (give or take 20 years!) seems to suit The Globe stage well, evoked simply through costumes, a few beds and lampposts. Jonathan Dove’s direction, using an enlarged stage and platform jutting out into the auditorium, is very effective and no time is wasted. There are some lovely performances, not least from James Garnon as Gilles / Scroggy and Will Featherstone as Twigg. Sam Cox and Paul Rider as a pair of Field Marshall’s are excellent, Patrick Driver and Katy Stephens are great as Twigg’s parents and Catherine Bailey provides a fine characterisation as Penelope, and in particular navigating the transition from good-time posh girl to caring and principled woman.

A charming and deeply satisfying evening, sadly closed but surely to resurface sometime?

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