You don’t get an Oresteia for ages, then two come along at once. After the Almeida’s powerful production comes the Globe’s version, less radical but just as good in its own way. Here, Aeschylus’ tragedy keeps the trilogy structure, with Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides performed separately with intervals between them. The three work as a unified structure, however, and together form a compelling experience.
Directed by Adele Thomas, the work concerns Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who takes revenge on his mother for killing his father before seeking forgiveness at the hands of Athena. With its exploration of the themes of justice and mercy, revenge giving way to reasoned judgement, it fits in perfectly with the rest of the Globe’s “Justice and Mercy” season.
Rory Mullarkey’s new translation is lyrical and witty. Katy Stephens is a truly chilling Clytemnestra, with Joel MacCormack a conflicted Orestes; the rest of the cast also give admirable performances. I wasn’t sure about some of the costume and prop choices: Agamemnon and his fellow soldiers return from the Trojan War in blood-spattered Grecian battle dress (couldn’t they at least have washed the blood off in the sea before sailing home?) while the citizens waiting for his return wear modern suits. The murders of the first two plays culminate in an altar of body parts being wheeled on to the stage: the same model is used in both plays, which caused me much amusement. It’s a gory play, and not one for the faint-hearted; much bloodier than the modern version which is now playing at the Trafalgar Studios. The ending employs a giant golden winged phallus: one of the more unusual things I have seen on the Globe stage.
If you like bloody Greek tragedy, this is one to see. It’s certainly entertaining, and provides much food for thought.