Sex and death, the juiciest bits of any decent Greek tragedy, feature strongly in Zinnie Harris’ three-part adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, an NTS co-production directed by Dominic Hill at the Citizens Theatre. Sometimes the two things get mixed up a bit – sex then death, although thankfully never the other way round.
Faithful to Aeschylus’ text, it has been ten years since Agamemnon (George Anton) went off to fight in the Trojan War. Before he left, he sacrificed his eldest daughter Iphigenia to the God in exchange for safe passage of his ships. His wife Clytemnestra, excellently portrayed by Pauline Knowles, has descended into grief-fuelled alcoholism and schemes bloody revenge upon his return. Where Harris chooses to divert from the original is by purposefully reframing attention on to the experiences of the two female characters at the heart of the story: the vengeful Clytemnestra and her damaged daughter Electra. In doing so she creates space for identification with the forceful female characters. Knowles shows us that Clytemnestra is as flawed as the rest of us: maternal, witty, forgiving, pained. Part one of the trilogy, Agamemnon’s Return, is violent and intoxicating; Agamemnon’s bloody (and fresh-out-of-the-bath naked) demise is played out in front of the audience, diverging from the Greek tradition of staging such actions out of view. Parts two and three shift focus to Clytemnestra’s two surviving children Electra and Orestes, two fine performances by Olivia Morgan and Lorn MacDonald respectively, as they try to appease the furious ghost of their dead father whilst navigating their own grief.
Played out over four hours – either split over two evenings, or in one mammoth sitting – this production is thrilling and rowdy. Nikola Kodjabasha’s music is as evocative as ever, with instruments cast about Colin Richmond’s dynamic set. It is in Part 3, Electra and her Shadow, where we see Dominic Hill truly give in to avant-garde abandon, with electrifying results. Harris’ clever and diligent adaptation shows us that there is still much to be found in unpicking the Greek classics.