In my experience, classic plays in the heart of the West End (Shakespeare, Greek, etc…) tend to be not as imposing to the general public as they should be. Unless, they have an A-list actor involved that is. Great plays come and go within spaces of 6-12 weeks – no complaints here as I have managed to witness tons of tremendous theatre but equally, some ignore the chance. It flies past them. It doesn’t catch their eye. They don’t view it as a ‘must-see’. Well, Oresteia, I’m telling you now, is not only a ‘must-see’ but one of the greatest theatrical productions of the year.
When it was announced that Oresteia, the first play in the Almeida’s Greek season, was to transfer to the West End, it was considered a surprise and dubbed as ‘this year’s most unlikely West End show’. Why is this? Majority turn to the play’s 3hr45min running time. But the play quickly gained sensational attention whilst at the Almeida and audiences were captivated by the ancient Greek family drama. The transfer may be a surprise, but it is in no way undeserved.
Oresteia is a trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus about the end of a curse on the family house of Atreus. Through this comes a tale of murder and revenge – father kills daughter, mother kills father and son kills mother. Though the production focuses on the question, how did this come to happen? A reimagining mesmerisingly put together by Robert Icke takes us through the dark events and concludes with a cold courtroom piece and a heart-breaking ending. The show deals with many themes such as family, love, murder, justice, power, feminism but its strongest is time. Real-time clocks note the exact time characters die and countdown intervals. It proves very effective.
Lia Williams gives a hauntingly monstrous portrayal of mother Clytemnestra and you follow her every evolving and calculating move. From the disagreements with her husband, Agamemnon (Angus Wright), to the murder she commits and her bloodcurdling speech about how it good it feels to finally be alive.
Wright’s performance as Agamemnon was great and alongside his wife, they made a coupling that outshone any others. They gave each other fantastic support and allowed each other to shine when they needed to.
The role of son, Orestes (played by Luke Thompson), is not fully appreciated until the latter half of this almost four hour epic. Thompson later takes centre stage when his character has to face to crimes he has committed and arguing with himself and a courtroom as to what is considered ‘his fault’. Thompson plays Orestes’ battle with himself disturbingly well and as he closes the epic production, he brings a tear to my eye with his beaten innocence.
Another notable mention is Downtown Abbey star, Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays, Electra. She holds a strong, interesting portrayal and drivers a speech on her father’s grave that easily becomes one of the shows highlights.
The whole cast are mesmerising to watch as the 10-strong-individuals support and uplift each other throughout. Alongside Icke’s great direction is the complementing set, lighting and sound created by Hildegard Bechtler, Natasha Chivers and Tom Gibbons respectively.
The show may still be 3hr 45min but shows only a third of its length have seemed to drag on longer. It knows what it’s about and Icke’s done a tremendous job with its premiere and transfer. This production falls into a category of its own in every right away and I implore anyone with even the slightest interest of any type of theatre, to see it. This is by far the best show I’ve seen all year.
Review by Tomm Ingram
Oresteia at the Trafalgar Studio One
A never to be forgotten theatrical experience.
A huge, moving, bloody saga, the original of all family dramas, Aeschylus’ greatest and final play asks whether justice can ever be done?
Part Godfather, part Breaking Bad, this new reimagined version of the epic Greek saga is the unmissable event of the year.
Oresteia is brought to you from the team behind the multi award winning and critically acclaimed 1984 and transfers direct from a sellout run at the Almeida, where it has beenuniversally hailed as an astonishing, bold and exhilarating theatrical feat. Directed by Robert Icke (Mr. Burns; 1984) and starring Lia Williams (Old Times; Earthquakes in London) as Klytemnestra.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.00pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 1.00pm
Monday 7th September 2015