Theatre Review: Oresteia at Almeida (part of their Greeks season)

Summary from Almeida website: Orestes’ parents are at war. A family drama spanning several decades, a huge, moving, bloody saga, Aeschylus’ greatest and final play asks whether justice can ever be done – and continues to resonate more than two millennia after it was written.

I have no idea where to start with this review because I’m still honestly not sure how to put into words how interesting this play was. Well, I say play but I should say epic, because at 3 hours and forty minutes (including 25 mins of intervals in three blocks) it definitely lives up to that description. What you get in that time (which you honestly don’t notice passing) is a modern (excellently updated by Robert Icke) version of the Aeschylus three part tragedy that is bloody, dark and steeped in questionable morality and judgement. It is not a comfortable play, certainly not one to go and see if you just want to sit back and passively view something. It requires engagement, it requires you to think and think hard and it leaves you, or rather it left me, with more questions than I had answers and I felt that was the way it should be. For someone who studied the Ancient Greek philosophers as part of their degree it felt a little like coming home; the ideas expounded and the questions posed comfortingly familiar even as they set disquieting trains of thought off in my mind.

The heart of the play is the question of when it is acceptable to kill someone and the action revolves around Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice his daughter (literally) for what he believed to be the “greater good” and the results of that action. I’m not going to go into details of the plot in case you are seeing it before the run closes on 18th July, but what I will say is that this question (and all the sub-questions that it spawns) is as morally grey today as it has always been and in the current climate one that is well worth considering.

It is well acted (Lia William as Klytemnestra and Angus Wright as Agamemnon were the standout performances for me), excellently staged, and the script surpassed all my expectations. It is absolutely worth the time and the ticket price (although the run is sold out, if you can make it before it closes on 18thJuly you’ll have to try for day tickets) and seeing it has made me even more enthusiastic about the other two plays in Almeida’s Greek season.  Roll on Bakkhai and Medea!

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