The Oresteia @ HOME, Manchester

Review by Alice Horne | 04 Nov 2015

HOME’s staging of Aeschylus’ ancient tragedy The Oresteia is dark, strange and sharply relevant.

In the third major production of The Oresteia this year, Ted Hughes’ pithy translation is pared down to just over 100 minutes, picking up pace as it hurtles through its story of family feuds.

Returning triumphant from the Trojan War, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, to avenge the sacrifice of their daughter. What follows is a bloody cycle of revenge, initiating a debate of right and wrong.

Directed by classicist Blanche McIntyre, it is not surprising that this version of Aeschylus’ trilogy engages heavily with the idiosyncrasies of ancient drama. The two choruses – formed of local volunteers and strongly led by Ronke Adekoluejo and Daniel Millar – function well as a surrogate audience, reacting and commenting on the action, while the role-swapping of the main characters creates a nuanced layer of meaning. Hedydd Dylan’s portrayal of the condemned prophetess Cassandra is particularly compelling, though it is the haunting depiction of the Furies that really stands out.

Laura Hopkins’s set is stark but delightfully versatile and darkly suggestive: the stage floor is covered in black pebbles, set against a backdrop of chains which separates the seen from the unseen, the living from the dead.

If this all leaves the production feeling disconcertingly strange, it is surely apt: after all, ancient drama is profoundly alien to modern theatre. However, this strangeness creates a mood that is more thought-provoking than it is moving.

As an exploration of war and justice, The Oresteia is unflinchingly provocative for today’s audiences. Not only are the repercussions of current conflict reaching our shores, but with the recent clash between government and the House of Lords over tax credits, the play’s challenge to ancient power and its appeal to the people demonstrate the impeccable timeliness of HOME’s production.

The Oresteia runs at HOME, Manchester until 14 Nov