Monday, 15 June 2015

Almeida Theatre: Oresteia by Robert Icke ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Theatre lovers will know Robert Icke for directing the pathological whirlpool, 1984 with Headlongt heatre-company. The production has gone from strength to strength and returns to the West End this week. As part of the Almeida’s summer season – devoted to classical Greek theatre – Icke has righteously kicked it off with his new, cool and jaw dropping production of Aeschylus’s 2,500-year-old play, Oresteia. It’s a supremely important canon of Greek drama and arguably the life-blood of theatre.

Icke translates Aeschylus’s text for a contemporary setting that is highly relatable, minus the kinship blood bath. (Those new to Greek tragedy are welcome). Aeschylus’s emblematic narrative highlights family sacrifice, Greek deities, death and morality and although there’s much talk of the supernatural Icke’s production is entirely modern and doesn't try too hard with theatrical tactics.
The subject matter is barbaric: father kills daughter; mother kills father; then, son kills mother. There’s shocking scenes of violence, seeping blood and raging arguments, which is mellowed with crafty moments of silence, which go part and parcel with Icke’s Greek tragedy. The trilogy lasts, just under, 4 hours and although this might sound long it is cleverly timed and fails to bore the audience.

Stage director, Hildegard Bechtler utilises a table and large glass panels, with subtle modes of technology (e.g. digital clock). The rest, of the imagination, is left in the hands of its outstanding cast who play characters with their own depth of fascination.

Angus Wright as Agamemnon is a ballsy, authoritative leader but shows pithy signs of fatherly fragility and warfare indecision when left with no choice but to appease the gods and drug induce his daughter. Wright presents a harrowing scene as a TV cameraman zooms into Iphigenia’s face, played by little Clara Read, and the blood absorbs the poison and she slowly closes her eyes.

Downtown Abbey’s young beaut, Jessica Brown Findlay, is the anxious, angry and disturbed daughter, Electra who moans the death of her father and makes a moving and empowering statement on stage. And Luke Thompson as the ‘snake’ born from his mother’s womb, Orestes gives a fine performance of a deeply distressed and psychopathic son.
Lia Williams, as Klytemnestra, however steals the spotlight and acts as a focal point of the tragedies that befalls her house. We see her as a mother, wife, queen, supporter of her husband’s political battles and a monstrous betrayer. She appears seamless in the role, as if Klytemnestra was written for her.  What’s more interesting is how intelligent and tremendously irresistible Icke’s adaptation is even though the stage is prosaic. Icke’s serious overtones, poetic imagery with Greek drama qualities is inventive and authentic and makes for an exciting and thought provoking show. Although the last segment, where the Athenian jury judge Orestes for his barbarous crime, is slightly off from the rest of the play, it’s a tense and interactive scene. The audience can decide whether or no Orestes is guilty.
Icke manages to get the audience to put their thinking caps on. Do we look at Greek tragedy as a form of theatre that should be left as it is or a genre that can be moulded into another contextual environment? Almeida’s other two Greek season "modern" productions, Bakkhai and Medea of Euripides, may help assemble our answer. 

Complimentary ticket not provided. Pictures courtesy of Guardian and Almeida Theatre. Theatres for Oresteia is available until July 18th. Click here to purchase tickets and more information. Running time 3 hrs 40 with 2 intervals.