If the idea of seeing a Greek Tragedy is enough to have you running for the hills then I accept the challenge to make you think again and embrace one of the best productions currently running in the West End.
Transferring from the intimate Almeida Theatre in Islington, Oresteia was the first production in the 'Almeida Greeks' season, which has since been followed by 'Bakkhai' starring Bertie Carvel and Ben Whishaw, and 'Medea' starring Kate Fleetwood. The production is billed as a new adaptation of Aeschylus' text by Robert Icke, who was behind the successful runs of '1984' in the West End and UK tour. Without a doubt this was one of my favourite shows I have seen this year, and would urge anyone to get down to Trafalgar Studios and see one of the most talked about productions for some time. If you still need convincing, below are my top five reasons to see the production.
Oresteia is actually three full plays in one and is based on 'The Oresteia' by Aeschylus which was written for the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC, where it won first prize. This contemporary version brings together the trilogy into one gripping and thought provoking new play, with updated text by Icke who uses modern language to tell the domestic drama. The title of the play comes from the character Orestes – one of the main protagonists who drives all aspects of the plot. The three stories are all interconnected and flow from one to the other, resulting in one high octane drama that continues to challenge you to the very end. The naturalism of the modern setting means that the story feels fresh, relevant and very real which means you invest fully in the journey and fate of each of the characters.
Without giving much away, the production succeeds in reinventing this text within an original and powerful narrative framework. As an audience, you're constantly watched and controlled – countdown timers on stage indicate the exact time of each interval and it becomes a race against the clock to get back to your seats for the next part of the drama. As the fourth act begins, you find yourself directly involved in the plot, and are forced to make a considered moral judgement. Not your ordinary trip to the theatre!
Oresteia features a stunning ensemble cast who each play a number of different roles throughout the epic tragedy. Lia Williams stars in the central role of Clytemnestra, the mother of Orestes whose journey shapes the entire show. Barely leaving the stage, she commands an intricate and well-judged performance that will have you on the edge of your seat right through to the very end. As each story is developed you find your sympathies shift from one character to the next, resulting in the final scene where you're asked to judge exactly who was in the wrong. Luke Thompson and Angus Wright are equally compelling as Orestes and Agamemnon, each bringing a distinct naturalism to accompany the high drama, humanising each character and making them thoroughly believable. Collectively, the production features some of the strongest acting you will see in the West End – reason enough to rush to see this spectacular show.
The intimate setting of Trafalgar Studios 1 manages to successfully recreate the interior of the Almeida Theatre. There isn't a bad view from any seat, and the whole audience can feel engrossed in the drama and feel close enough to read each emotion. The set design gives a modern edge to the story, with its use of cameras and filming to propel certain moments into the limelight and offer an alternative perspective on the actions of each character – specifically channelled through a public and private sphere. Deceptively simple, the production allows the audience to watch multiple stories at once, adding to the case study of each murder and allowing a simple, yet wholly effective retelling of the events.
Oresteia has received some of the best reviews of any production this year, with critics praising the adaptation, the production and performances. I for one was simply blown away by the show and enjoyed debating the key themes with audience around me during the intervals – a true sign of an engrossing drama. This isn't a show that allows you to relax – you're implicit in the actions from the very beginning and that allows you to feel fully vested in the outcome. For those who enjoy seeing critically lauded productions – this is certainly one that should be on your list, and I am convinced many of the people involved will be celebrated as awards season rolls around.