Oresteia

Theatre, Drama
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 (© Manuel Harlan)
1/4
© Manuel Harlan

Angus Wright and Lia Williams

 (© Manuel Harlan)
2/4
© Manuel Harlan

Eve Benioff Salama, Lia Williams, Ilan Galkoff & Angus Wright

 (© Manuel Harlan)
3/4
© Manuel Harlan

Jessica Brown Findlay and Angus Wright

 (© Manuel Harlan)
4/4
© Manuel Harlan

Lia Williams

The Almeida's devastating 'Oresteia' transfers to the West End as powerful as ever

Robert Icke’s extraordinary adaptation of Aeschylus’s ‘Oresteia’ makes it feel as if you have electrodes wired into your soul. From the brisk digital click of the clock that welcomes the audience into the auditorium to the last achingly painful flashback to Agamemnon and Klytemnestra as parents of a happy family, it electrifies and devastates in equal measure.

This is Greek tragedy filtered through ‘The Sopranos’, enriched with visual and verbal references to ‘House of Cards’, ‘Macbeth’, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and at one point even Gilbert and Sullivan. Accompanied by a daring soundtrack that flits devastatingly between the Beach Boys and John Tavener, it brilliantly transposes Aeschylus to become one of the great writers of our age.

Even before the body of Syrian three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was washed up on a Turkish beach, the idea of innocent children affected by war has endured as one of the most potent arguments against it. Often stage adaptations of Euripides’s version of the myth show Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia, as a young adult, but here Icke – who also directs – shows her as a small, precocious little girl, inseparable from her toy rabbit. The shift shows with painful clarity how Agamemnon - played with wiry dynamism by Angus Wright, a power-broker straight out of ‘House of Cards’ - must destroy the beating heart of his household’s happiness when he sacrifices her. Some versions of the myth show Iphigenia transformed into a deer – Icke cleverly turns this bizarre plot shift upside down by showing Iphigenia protesting about eating venison stew, thereby aligning the fate of girl and animal more realistically and devastatingly.

On Hildegard Bechtler’s sleek modernist set, the entire action is framed by the dialogue between Orestes (Luke Thompson) and his therapist. What was once a tired trope has, of course, gained renewed currency with ‘The Sopranos’, and, more recently ‘Sherlock’. Here Icke makes the therapeutic set-up even more powerful – linking the concept of the unreliable narrator with a Jungian interpretation of mythology that makes the House of Atreus a perfect fit for our war-torn world. Most thrillingly he takes anomalies in Aeschylus’s text that normally provoke giggles (Orestes’s footprints are absurdly the same size as Electra’s) and creates a jaw-dropping plot twist that subverts and enhances the original.

Each member of the cast gives a performance that is both meticulous and highly charged, but it is Lia Williams as Klytemnestra who dominates the evening. Whitman-like she proclaims ‘I contain multitudes’, and she does – we see her as doting mother, sex-charged lover, pragmatic power-broker, and finally as confident politician, empowered by her husband’s absence at war. Wright is astounding, but Williams is incredible, tearing us in half as we watch her, inspiring both loathing and admiration. She crowns a transfer from the Almeida that is a true tour de force, more than justifying the trilogy’s two-and-a-half-thousand-years’ afterlife.

By: Rachel Halliburton

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LiveReviews|9
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Sylvia K
Staff Writer

Such a breathtakingly fantastic play - superb performances and brilliant production. Do not miss seeing this before the run ends!

AME
Tastemaker

Well… all I can say is ‘good luck’ to any other play that attempts to trump this one. With regular ‘breaks’, this Greek tragedy did not feel 3hrs and 40mins long at all and whilst I did familiarise myself with the storylines before seeing it, it doesn’t require hardly any knowledge of the happenings. 

There were so many themes running through the performance with so many messages to get your head around, one of the most haunting being the effect of religion.
The script was powerful, as were the actors, and a special mention to the child actors who were the best I’ve ever seen, especially as they were handling some pretty intense scenes.
There were several times throughout when I got boosebumps but most notably when there was a 10min break and Clytemnestra was left on stage the whole time. It was so engaging that I didn’t even want to leave for the loo! For a regular theatre-goer, I’m tempted to say it’s the best I’ve ever seen. The competition has never been stiffer – nice one Almeida. 

Phil S

Excellent play, although it is over 3 hours in length the time flies by and you get engaged in the plot.

MooseInLondon
Tastemaker

Went into this play 'blind' so to speak as I did not know the 'back story'. Play was excellent if not at times, nerve wracking (like I said I didn't know what I was getting into!) They play IS long but there are quite a few breaks skillfully worked into the acting so its not like you are sitting for 2 hours straight. Regardless I thought the acting was superb and the storyline heart wrenching. 


I also think this play would be good for a book club like discussion afterwards as it brings up some very interesting moral questions. Worth a see if you can snag up tickets!

John C

A little confusing at points, but I think that was somewhat intended. Only bit I wasn't too keen on was with Cassandra. Her portrayal could have been less 'The Exorcist'.

John C
tastemaker

Really smart stylist production. Very clear adaptation which helps those of us who lack any real knowledge of Greek drama. Even the 3 hours & 40 minutes running time ,which I wasn't looking forward to, whizzed past. Recommended - another really good Almeida transfer

Ben
Tastemaker

Not much to add beyond Andrzej Lukowski's excellent review, but this was one of the best plays I've seen in London - probably the most powerful and urgent since A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic (which the music and staging echoes in some respects - it certainly has scenes with the same primal power).  

I was unfamiliar with the play before going in but it seems like it's been almost completely ripped up and pulled around, bringing something written around 1500 years ago into something relevant.  Full marks to Lia Williams and Angus Wright's acting as Klytemnestra and Agamemnon respectively, I was leaning in the near-4 hour duration completely swept up.  Not an easy, light-hearted watch but can't imagine there's anything better on at the West End currently.

bowertron
0 of 1 found helpful

Brilliantly acted but no play should be this long. If you've had a bad day at work and then you settle down for 3 hours and 40 minutes of Greek drama your next day at work is guaranteed to be even worse.