Aeschylus’s The Oresteia is in high demand at the moment, with new versions sprouting up left, right and centre, and The Globe houses The Oresteia in its most authentic form. Director Adele Thomas and writer Rory Mullarkey join forces to tell the original, translated, but as truly as possible. It has to be said, The Globe is an authentic theatrical experience, and the event of attending a Globe performance is something a lot of other theatres fail to live up to. However much as honesty and authenticity are doubtlessly attractive traits, but are they enough to leave their audience with idea planted minds and, most importantly, entertained?
Mullarkey’s script is intricate. The meter echoes around the space, packed with imagery that is memorable, but heavy. Each line is so packed with beautiful phrasing and mirth-ridden meaning that if you were to focus on each one, your brain would implode within the three hours. The creative process behind this use of language is not quite laid bare to the audience, but it’s clearly a very complex one. However the problem with this acute level of intelligence and detailed complexity is that the rest of the production has to match it.
In this case, all the other aspects seemed to lag behind, dragged with the momentum of the language but never reaching the same apex. Thomas’ direction is confusing, convoluted and incoherent. She doesn’t seem to have made any definitive decisions, resolving to mash several differing ideas together and hoping for the best. The chorus wear trilbies, macs and carry brief cases, like old school detectives full of ears and eyes. I’d expect them to set the style for the piece. Instead their omnipresence only draws attention to the jarring variety of styles thrown into the mix. Agamemnon and his soldiers sport a gladiator-esque get up; while Cassandra and her servants wear floor length gowns, with Greek graphics that seem like they’ve come from a 60s photo shoot. The costumes are merely an example of the incoherency that is carried through all the action. More practically speaking, my view was severely restricted and I couldn’t see anything that took place on the central platform, which was about 75% of the action including the big reveals of the bodies.
On the performance front, Joel MacCormack’s Orestes is a show stealer, partly as his is the only character that really travels through the narrative. He has a mission that he sticks to and he does so with us as his mascots. On the whole, the other characters lack humanity. The chorus can get away with it because they are serving a purpose that doesn’t depend on the audience’s empathy. But Clytemnestra (Katy Stephens) needs to make us feel something; repulsion, sympathy, disgust, just something. Instead she stands and delivers with an overt awareness that she is on stage. There are no noticeable levels in her character whatsoever.
The timing of the production dictates that there are bound to be comparisons between it and the other Oresteias. This one falls short, as the audience struggle to identify with anything. In this Oresteia I didn’t find myself caring who died, how they died or when they died. All of them died monotonically and I only found myself willing them to die quickly.
The Oresteia plays Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre until October 16. For more information and tickets, see the Globe Theatre website.