Mini-review: The Oresteia (Riverside Studios)

Three Greek tragedies in two hours? Bargain!

The Oresteia

Where:The Oresteia Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London W6 9RL
When: 29th February-24th March, 7:30pm; 2pm matinees: 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22 March
How long: 2h20 with 20 minute intervals
Tickets from: £15

Aeschylus’s blood-soaked trilogy in just two hours? Amazing. Yet, using a ‘translation’ by Ted Hughes, Theatrelab, a Greek theatre company responsible for a very decent adaptation of Sophokles’ Antigone at Riverside Studios two years ago, manages to get Agamemnon back from Troy then murdered by his wife Klytaimnestra, she in turn killed along with her lover by her son Orestes, and then have Orestes put on trial by the gods before Athens’ first ever jury, all within the allotted span.

While you can quibble a least a bit with some of Hughes’ translation, as a condensed version of the trilogy, it cuts away everything extraneous (and there’s a lot) in favour of the essence of the story, resulting in a surprisingly fast-paced, accessible and engrossing play, particularly in the second act which manages to get through both The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides in an hour.

A lot of Greek tragedy when adapted for the stage can be very static, as was the case with Tough Theatre’s Hippolytus, say, with characters essentially standing stock still on opposite sides of the stage exchanging lines. Here Theatrelab’s director Anastasia Revi, who also directed Antigone, takes the opposite direction, filling almost every scene and exchange with movement. Sometimes this works very well, with Revi dramatising scenes, such as Agamemnon’s bathing by Klyaimnestra, that usually take place off stage. Revi also deploys numerous directorial tricks and stagecraft to give modern relevance and visual impact to scenes.

Sometimes, however, she goes a little overboard – such as when there’s ‘synchronised falling’ and ‘swimming’ across the stage by the chorus – it’s hard not to avoid the occasional titter. All the same, you’re never bored while you’re watching.

The actors, many of whom were also in Antigone are fair to good, largely engaging and well cast – although some tend towards the plummier and more ‘effusive’ approaches to acting, shall we say? Set design is good as is wardrobe; there’s even authentic Greek music played and singing at appropriate points. Possibly the only big let down is the seating, which is authentically rock solid:

Riverside Studios seating

You’d be hard-pushed to find better Greek tragedy in fringe theatre and it’s no surprise that the company’s previous production was commended as the best show in the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in 2011 in Cyprus. Go watch it if you have any interest in Greek theatre.