Jethro Compton directs three plays inspired by great dramatic and literary figures, beginning with part one of The Oresteia
In the first part of Aeschylus’s trilogy The Oresteia, the King of Argos Agamemnon returns home after a decade fighting in the Trojan wars, only to be murdered by his bitter and resentful wife Clytemnestra. Typical of Greek tragedy, the piece is dramatic, bombastic and centres on the hubris of a glory seeking king. While Jethro Compton’s take on the tale retains the title and the bare bones of the plot, the piece is a far more contemplative and haunting story, and all the better for it.
The nameless King (James Marlowe) lies injured in the trenches and slides between past and present, truth and paranoia, as he recalls his time with his wife (Serena Manteghi), the circumstances which caused him to leave her for war, and her possible plotting of his demise.
In contrast to the epic nature of Greek tragedy, this is a quiet tale with minimal characters. Knowledge of the text is not necessary, but there’s just as much here for Greek tragedy fans as there is for complete novices. Special kudos must go to the treatment of Clytemnestra, played with startling clarity and understanding by Manteghi. The nameless wife of the heroic king is developed far beyond that stereotype and allotted far more sympathy and character. The nature of the audience seating means her face isn’t always visible but you don’t need to see her expressions to know how she feels. Every minute movement she makes speaks volumes. Dan Wood also offers a refreshing comedic edge as the bumbling but well meaning Aegisthus.
Truly immersive theatre is an increasing rarity at the Fringe, due to lack of appropriate performance space and mounting costs, so it’s immensely refreshing to spend time on the cramped benches of the World War I trench bunker meticulously constructed for the trilogy. Every detail rings true, from the billowing smoke of kicked up dust from the ground to the creaking walls as the bombs overhead drop. Even the smell is realistic. While the seating may be uncomfortable and the heat of the claustrophobic room stifling, the experience is quite unlike anything else on offer at the Fringe this year, but I do recommend taking along a water bottle.
Compton and his team have created an immersive, dedicated and demanding experience for the Fringe, one that is entirely captivating and thrilling. The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon is the kind of show that exemplifies the true nature of the Fringe, and one that must be seen. The bar has been set high for the remaining parts of the trilogy, but from what has been seen in Agamemnon, the task can easily be accomplished.