The Oresteia is the latest production from Manchester theatre HOME.  Based on a translation of the original Aeschylus play from Ted Hughes, and directed by Blanche McIntyre, this play looks into the birth of democracy, and inevitably asks us where democracy sits in our lives today.

The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.  A play like this must stand on its own, without any knowledge of the original, nor Greek tragedies in general.  From this perspective the play is clear and a good story.  However, certain parts cried out for further development, especially for Cassandra and Electra.   There are moments of brilliance, but also moments that disrupt the flow; important moments that have become comical.  But it’s a long time to keep ones attention, and this version just didn’t do enough to pull me in.

The acting is variable, but Hedydd Dylan as Cassandra/Athene and Lyndsey Marshal as Clytemnestra stand out.  Doubling up on roles, particularly for the men,  is interesting but a little confusing.  The ensemble chorus adds texture and connects to the ‘people’ using the entire auditorium, although the clarity wasn’t always there.  The Furies are wonderfully played, and these are some of the best scenes of the play.

It is an impressive set, covered in grit, scraped away to reveal a red carpet or a river of blood.  Ladders and a swing give the production height, and a backdrop of chains and a projection screen create interesting effects.  I’m not sure about key spoken words being projected on the screen; whilst highlighting their significance and connecting their relevance to our current lives, they detract from the flow of the play.  Lighting is generally good, but as with the rest of the play a little mixed.

Posters advertising the show suggest it is dark, but actually this production of the Oresteia flows through stages of darkness and light.  The traditional is mixed with the modern, but can this really work?  The best parts of the play were rooted in a classic style, using formal structure and simple well lit scenes.  Much of the action would have been better suited to the round.  Some of the updating was just of the sake of it, and at times disconnected you from the story.  Equally, there are moments of true brilliance.

Overall very mixed.  A play that sits uneasily between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ but needed to be one or the other.


Photo:  Graeme Cooper

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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