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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!




The Oresteia

Joel MacCormack as Orestes in Rory Mullarkey's adaptation of The Oresteia directed by Adele Thomas

Photo by Johan Persson


Directed by
Adele Thomas

Adapted by 
Rory Mullarkey

From the original by

Designed by 
Hannah Clark

Composed by
Mira Calix


Shakespeare’s Globe


29 August – 16 October 2015

In a theatrical triptych there are three productions of ‘The Oresteia’ to view this autumn; one in Manchester, two in London. The only extant trilogy from 5th century Greece, ‘The Oresteia’ is an event - epic in stature and breadth. The seeds of democracy, the essence of justice, blind or otherwise, see the ancient ‘old Gods’ subsumed into the heart of Athenian life, to become the Kindly Ones,: a dramatic arc in which enlightenment pays a heavy due in blood and vengeance.

Playwright Rory Mullarkey at Shakespeare’s Globe, keeps the structure clear and tight, drawing inspiration from Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Bryron and Tony Harrison in a monumental text that weaves effortlessly and resoundingly in a rhythmic maelstrom of epic story-telling, counter-balanced by Mira Calix’s explosive, experimental score; so far so good.

Made up of three plays, he compresses ‘The Oresteia’ into three distinct acts. The vengeful Clytemnestra takes life for a life, killing her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to ensure a Greek victory at Troy; Orestes, her son, commits matricide and is pursued by the Furies intent on avenging Clytemnestra’s death; finally, the Furies, as Athena casts her vote, become the Kindly Ones as Orestes is tried, putting an end to the cycle of mindless revenge through compassion, tempered by justice and reason.

Yet director Adele Thomas swaps the Kindly Ones’ hearth for the kitchen sink and throws the lot at it. In a clash between ancient and modern, driven by a strong bathetic current, austerity-torn Greece obtrudes into ancient drama. Make-shift wooden panels and red-daubed graffiti suggest a ghetto town, while burning iron caldrons hint at palatial splendour and ritual. Yet the anachronisms, trilbies, suits, brollies against Greek helmets, breastplates and dressing up box tunics – and the odd, awkwardly held cigarette or two - is a clash too far. By the third act the production seems to have lost its way. 

There’s a sense of anything goes. Anarchy rules, played out in a bacchanalian romp; a place where helmeted state-thugs meet zombied furies in a frenzied B Movie Fest, as blood sacrifice competes with body shanks in an endless tableau of death and gore.  

Yet the chorus of seven lead by Brendan O’Hea and Paul Rider relish Mullarkey’s rich text in a superlative feat of story-tellingthat sees them develop from respectable citizenry to militant protestors; traced in grand gestural style by Lucy Burge’s chthonic choreography. Naana Agyei-Ampadu who doubles as Agamemnon’s concubine, Cassandra, is compelling. While the bloodied and mellifluous Katy Stephens, as Clytemnestra, shimmers in decadent fury as violent hurt yields to black-bloodied murder.

Joel MacCormack makes for a convincing wracked-guilt-ridden Orestes, while Trevor Fox offers a fresh, bitter twist as the adulterous Aegisthus. Unlikeable, drunken from the start, he too has his moment as he tells of Atreus’s atrocity to his father, Thyestes, in serving up his sons. And so stories are grafted and re-grafted to become deep-cleaved wounds, leaving no possibility for change.

But ‘The Oresteia’ is about change - change wrought through compassion and pity. This alchemy is missing from Thomas’ production, bogged down as it is by anarchic sentiment which overwhelms it; maybe this is the point. We are rung out by the timeless enactment of war, murder and revenge, but compassion ultimately makes us sue for peace. Yet like the fateful false dawn of the watchman’s opening celebration at Agamemnon’s return, pell-mell, we fall back into a violent fray seemingly having learned nothing at all.


Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT
Box Office 020 7401 9919
Tickets £5 to £43
Book Tickets:

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