Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre Review : Orestes by Helen Edmundson based on Euripedes - Shared Experience Theatre Co - Tricycle Theatre (dir Nancy Meckler 15/11/06)

Orestes and Electra have been instructed by Apollo to kill their mother Clytemnestra and her lover for their adultery and the murder of their father Agamemnon on his return from the Trojan wars. This they have duly done, and now, soaked in blood and wracked with guilt, they await their fate. Apollo is nowhere to be seen.

Visitors drop by to berate them for what they have done - first Helen, then their grandfather Tyndareos, and finally Agamemnon's brother Menelaos, who promises to help them but fails to do anything. Abandoning hope, they decide to kill themselves. They wash the blood off their bodies and change into golden robes. But, as their farewell embrace becomes distinctly amorous, Orestes, to the amusement of the audience, decides he doesn't want to die. Instead he wishes to kill Menelaos for his treachery, and Helen. He rushes off and comes back with the baby of Menelaos, but just as everything is closing in, Apollo intervenes and Orestes is transformed into a star.

Personally, I find Euripides' Orestes poor fare when compared with the Oresteia of Aeschylus. It is episodic, implausible and in many ways dramatically flawed. Electra and Orestes come over as blood-crazed, their decision to try to kill Menelaos and Helen lacking justification. This adaptation doesn't change the implausibility, but it does compensate through beautiful language and a tightening of the plot through excising the chorus and superfluous characters. The result is a tight piece of theatre.

My problem is with the some of the directorial choices. Should Orestes and Electra indulge in incestuous embraces? Well, not if they don't want to offend Apollo. When Orestes declares that he doesn't want to die, its a real laugh-out loud moment which cuts the tension when it should be maintained. Yet the acting throughout was excellent (especially Mairead McKinley as Electra and Jeffrey Kissoon as Tyndareos, spitting out his words in rage) and the staging of the final scene excellent - a pity I had a seat at the side of the Tricycle, which offers a very poor view of the stage.

Greek drama has a particular resonance for modern staging, its austerity and poetry fitting well with contemporary theatre. Whilst this production didn't scale the heights, it was a brave and audacious attempt to rework a difficult ancient play in a way that is both poetic and tightly-constructed. It came very close to succeeding.

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