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Review: A Standing Ovation for Oresteia

The incessant sounds of clocks ticking as you entered the auditorium for Oresteia at Trafalgar Studios gave the impression that it was only a matter of time: that we were simply waiting for the hammer to fall. And when it fell, it hit hard.

Icke combines the series of plays into a three act structure, which sails effortlessly and with a superb pace despite its seemingly lengthy running time of 3 hours and 40 minutes. The inclusion of the regular debate of Orestus’ (the fantastic Luke Thompson) sanity, reliability and reasoning cements the play as topical and relevant to our modern society which appears not all that dissimilar to that of the Ancient Greeks.

Angus Wright was the powerful and destructive King Agamemnon who, delivered with touching sorrow, the clinical destruction of his daughter, Iphigenia, in a bid to hasten his attempts at war. Icke makes it clear; Agamemnon’s actions are that of murder, not sacrifice. Wright, however, succeeded in the difficult task of dividing opinion; we should hate him for his actions, but we can’t help but pity his sad and tortured life.

Jessica Brown Findlay was fantastic as his eldest daughter Electra, breaking down in a fit of determined revenge during the second act with such harrowing effect that we really supported her murderous ambition. Hara Yannas’ Cassandra is a remarkably traumatised prisoner of Agamemnon’s war, whilst the decision to dress her in the same clothes as Iphigenia makes the tiny swinging legs of Dixie Egerickx (Iphigenia) even more tragic as she slowly passes into death.

Lia Williams was haunting as Clytemnestra, moving with a calculating and cat-like air. Her character gives the play a feminist undertone as she declares “this cannot be a place where the woman is less important”, overtly demonstrating her desire to be rid of the dominating males in her life.

Hildegard Bechtler’s design is extraordinary, with three sliding screens creating seamless transitions, giving an ethereal air to the actors movement. The use of live film projection is intriguing and worked well with Tom Gibbon’s destructive and brutal soundscapes. Natasha Chivers’ lighting is expositional and offers no escape, yet some of the darkest scenes happen in complete darkness, forcing us to rely on everything but visuals.

“Why do we do things?” asks Orestus as he desperately tries to understand the tragedy which has befallen his family. Robert Icke’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Orestius is brutal and painful, but demonstrates the destructive nature of family popularised in Breaking Bad and The Sopranos; yet Icke makes it very clear that they have learnt from the Greeks, not vice versa. And all this, whilst achieving a standing ovation from a production which shows the merciless murder of a child, the ruthless trial of a madman and copious amounts of blood. A fantastic evening.

Oresteia runs at Trafalgar Studios until 7 November, 2015.

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