Oresteia

Published September 8, 2015

What’s it all about?

This is a thousand year old story told in a very modern way. It’s a tale of a family caught in a bloody cycle of revenge. A tale of politics and prophecies, of humanity and the Gods. Of a world where the sacrifice of your very own child is thinkable and the family dinner table becomes an altar for retributional bloodshed.

Sound dark? It is, very. But in the hands of the stupendously exciting adaptor and director Robert Icke, it is both theatre at its most horrifying and electrifying, grotesque and stunningly beautiful.

Who’s in it?

A staggering performance from Lia Williams as the mother leads Icke’s Almeida Theatre transfer. Alongside Angus Wright as her military hero husband, the pair drag us along with them on this frightening journey. Strong, powerful and tortured, together the engrossing actors perform an unpredictable dance that frequently leaves you holding your breath in anticipation of where their dysfuctional steps will go, whether they will result in tenderness or violence.

It must be as terrifying as Williams’ zealous reaction to her homicidal actions to be acting against such a skilled pair, but the cast succeed triumphantly, with a stand out performance from Oliver Ryan as the show’s ever-watching, sinister to the max narrator.

What should I look out for?

To steal my colleague Matthew Amer’s words when he wrote of its Almeida premiere, “the whole flippin’ show”. Icke’s staging is likely one of the most stylish, rich and just downright interesting things you’ll see in the theatre this year.

Over the show’s three and a half hour run, Icke employs a visionary host of theatrical flourishes – from projecting live filming to an ominous clock marking moments of doom – without ever being in danger of tipping the balance of style over substance. His adaptation is so rich in substance, in fact, you’ll be chewing it over for days with Hildegard Bechtler’s incredible, multi-layered set burnt into your memory to accompany it.

Listen out for the music. The epic choral score will leave you uneasy while one particularly bloody scene will likely forever ruin The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows for you. You have been warned.

Who was in the press night crowd?

We spotted one of Theatreland’s most talented sets of spouses, the Almeida Theatre’s Artistic Director Rupert Goold and forthcoming Medea star Kate Fleetwood, as well as former My Night With Reg co-stars Geoffrey Streatfeild and Julian Ovendon, and Olivier Award winner Lesley Manville.

In a nutshell?

This is visceral theatre at its very best; created and performed from the gut. Prepare for a heart-stopping ride horrifying and electric in equal measures.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

It may be as unflinchingly horrific and grotesque as it gets, but Icke’s visionary reimagining, with its stunning aesthetics and measured direction, might also just be as breath-taking.

Oresteia is playing until 7 November. You can book tickets through us here.

Oresteia first played at the Almeida Theatre in June when Official London Theatre published the following First Night Feature:

What’s it all about?

Oresteia is about one hideous, barely conceivable decision that sparks a cycle of revenge spanning generations.

Despite millennia having passed since Aeschylus’ trilogy of tragedies was first performed, in Robert Icke’s adaptation it feels as modern and current as an Apple Watch.

Who’s in it?

Angus Wright is a remarkable Agamemnon, a father and leader whose sinewy frame disguises an inner world in which reason, emotion, honour and devotion are constantly kicking seven shades out of each other. His torment, as he wrestles with a decision that will destroy his family but might save his nation, is almost unbearable.

The equally exceptional Lia Williams as his wife and foil Clytemnestra begins as an exuberant mother and devoted wife, filled with child-like joy. When Agamemnon’s decision rips her apart, Williams reveals a woman torn, grieving while still in love, presenting public and private personas.

What should I look out for?

The whole flippin’ show. Adaptor/Director Icke has taken a classic and made it feel fresh, current and essential: a family in turmoil breaking down over dinner table rituals; a man driven to extremes by his faith and perceived honour; the nature of accountability, justice and forgiveness; Icke has drawn focus on the most timely issues and created a framework for the age old trilogy that still surprises.

As for moments, watch out for the winds changing dramatically for Agamemnon, the ticking countdown to doom, and the single most horrific and haunting use of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. I may never be able to listen to it again.

In a nutshell?

Greek tragedy as vibrant, essential, surprising, philosophical and horrifying as it is possible to be. God only knows how you’ll live without it.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

Oresteia is not an easy evening of theatre. It will put your nerves and emotions through the wringer again and again leaving you beaten, battered and exhausted. But what a way to reach that glorious state of broken-ness. Three hours and 30 minutes feels not like a feat of endurance but a fleeting blink of a brutal, unflinching eye.

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