I’ve read a lot of Greek theatre (I did a Theatre Studies degree) and seen performances of some classic plays (Lysistrata and Phedra, for example) but I’ve never seen it done so… thoroughly… before, with a large chorus fully utilised, and the strophe and antistrophe physicalized on the stage. It’s like having pages of my text books brought to life, and I wish I’d seen it while I was studying.
This is a fascinating production – all modern dress and regional accents – and Ted Hughes’ adaptation of the script is as fluid and accessible as you’d expect. This very deliberate modernity contrasts spectacularly with the traditional techniques: the choral speaking, the off-stage action – and it really, really works.
Make no mistake, the story is preposterous. Of course it is. It’s all heightened over-reaction and soap-opera plot – affairs and murder and long-lost kids. While Agamemnon has been fighting in Troy, his wife, Clytemnestra, has taken Aegisthus as a lover. She wants revenge on Agamemnon because he’s sacrificed their daughter to the gods, and a bloody, convoluted family drama thus ensues, albeit with the input of Apollo and Athene.
The acting is uniformly strong, but it’s the chorus that stands out. Split into three parts (men, women and Furies), the ensemble admirably fulfils its function, narrating, commenting and advising the characters. The choral speaking is beautifully precise, an object lesson in how it should be done. The men in particular create a kind of filter for the audience; they stand in the auditorium, leaning on the stage in their jeans and trackies, like a group of blokes in their local pub, checking out what’s going on. At times they’re in the dress circle too, shouting down to the characters, deploring what they do.
It’s an accomplished piece of theatre, and excellent to watch. Do try to catch it if you can.