by Aeschylus new version Robert Icke from Aeschylus
Almeida Theatre Almeida Street Islington N1 1TA To18 July 2015.
Mon-Sat 7pm Mat Sat 1pm; Wed June 24, July 8, 1pm
Audio described 27 June 1pm (+ Touch Tour 11.15am), 10 July 7pm (+ Touch Tour 5.30pm).
Captioned 3 July 7pm.
Runs: 3hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7359 4404.
Review: Carole Woddis 11 June.
Brave blending of the topical and the perennial.
Embarking on an ambitious programme of Greek tragedies, I can’t imagine Rupert Goold’s consistently excelling Almeida coming up with anything more trenchant or magnificent than Robert Icke’s new version of Aeschylus’ harrowing Oresteia.
The magnificence lies in Icke’s rendition of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes as contemporary, flesh and blood, psychologically complex individuals with recognisable latter-day parallels. Listen to Angus Wright’s leader being interviewed about his sense of rightness in pursuing a war to win and Blair, Cameron et al can’t help but spring to mind.
Icke’s intelligent, supple adaptation is very European in its sensibilities. Like Iva van Hove with his Amsterdam Toneelgroep’s Roman Tragedies (Barbican 2009) and this year’s Antigone, it is stripped-down to bare but astute basics: conversational, dominated by Hildegard Bechtler’s family dining-table and perspex sliding-doors with video-cam for up-close-and-personal.
Thematically, it is as though we were following a therapy session as Orestes searches for truth in memories of family trauma he’d rather not remember.
R D Laing would have loved Icke’s nuanced re-emphasising of the nuclear family as the crucible of emotional pain and life-long guilt – though it gives less of the sense of fate inexorably bearing down.
Such determinism is out of fashion. But Icke’s careful, at times gut-wrenching, approach ensures this family’s violent if comprehensible responses become all too human and immediate, starting with Agamemnon’s personal agonies over sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia, to the public good, thus setting in motion the cycle of bloody revenge.
As Clytemnestra, Lia Williams is astounding, a superb chameleon of emotional disguise whose warm smile and perfect mother/wife veneer covers a hideous sense of moral outrage. “It was all lies”, she tells us, exulting in the freedom she feels after murdering her husband.
Stunning as a ring-side view into the intimacies of marriage and the often unheard female voice, this Oresteia is also plangent in the parental legacies bequeathed to Electra (a moving Jessica Brown Findlay) and Orestes, the son who ultimately commits matricide but in Luke Thompson’s heartfelt, Hamlet-like portrayal becomes the young man needing to atone for a murdered father but instead paralysed by emotional trauma.
Cast: Lorna Brown, Jessica Brown Findlay, Rudi Dharmalingam, Annie Firbank, Joshua Higgott, John Mackay, Luke Thompson, Lia Williams, Angus Wright, Hara Yannas, Amelia Baldock, Eve Benioff Salama, Clara Read, Ilan Galkoff, Cameron Lane, Bobby Smalldridge.
Director: Robert Icke.
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting: Natasha Chivers.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Video: Tim Reid.
Consultant Academic: Simon Goldhill.
Dramaturg: Duska Radosavljevic.
Assistant director: Anthony Almeida.
An Almeida commission. World premiere 29 May 2015.