Classics Trips: The Oresteia
Greek tragedies are not performed very frequently and those of Aeschylus least frequently of all. And yet, despite all these difficulties facing modern stagings, Classics students were able to see not one but two productions of Aechylus’s Oresteia last term. The Oresteia is a towering and monumental work: a trilogy which tells the story of a doomed family, trapped in a nightmarish and claustrophobic cycle of sin and punishment.
The Globe production was a fairly traditional telling of the tale in an excellent new translation by Rory Mullarkey. The production was somewhat confused: the Chorus were wearing modern dress with trilby hats and umbrellas, while Agamemnon was dressed in full military uniform as if he had come from the set of a sword and sandals epic and Clytemnestra wore a curious op-art dress from the sixties. The performances were all solid, with Katy Stephens commanding in the role of the vengeful matriarch.
The Almeida production could not have been more different. Set in the 21st century on a modern and minimalist set, it was a very free adaptation of the Aeschylean trilogy. The killing of Iphigenia was actually staged – as the seismic event which triggers revenge and counter-revenge – whereas in Aeschylus’s play her death is narrated by the Chorus. In a shocking and disturbing scene, Angus Wright as Agamemnon cradles the trusting child in his arms as she is given a lethal injection. Luke Thompson and Jessica Brown Findlay gave thoughtful performances as Orestes and Electra, respectively, but it is Lia Williams’s astonishing performance as Clytemnestra which sticks in the memory. This was a daring and bold production of the Oresteia that told its bloody story of revenge in an imaginative tour de force.