Modern take on Greek tragedy enthrals London theatergoers

Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:45am EDT
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By Gareth Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - A new production of Aeschylus's "Oresteia" transforms the 2,500-year-old text into a riveting and relevant drama for today's theatergoers through its technological innovations, fast-paced dialogue and sharp focus on a chronically dysfunctional family.

Using video cameras and digital clocks and featuring moody teenagers, slick lawyers and evasive politicians, Robert Icke's nearly four-hour long version of the tragic trilogy seems to be anchored in our own time, not in some mythic Greek past.

And that, says Rupert Goold, artistic director at London's Almeida Theater where the "Oresteia" has just opened and will play until July 18, is precisely the point.

"We believe that the work we present must be alive and resonant, as far away as possible from being dusty cultural heritage," he said.

By interpreting the "Oresteia" in ways accessible to a modern audience, he said, they are just following the example of Aeschylus himself who reworked myths already old and hoary in his own time to pose big questions about society and family, religion and politics, justice and revenge.

("Oresteia") is the original family drama to which all subsequent family dramas can trace back their frameworks and rhythms ... It's big, bloody and essential," Goold said.

First performed in 458 BCE, the "Oresteia" has a bloody plot: father kills daughter, mother kills father, son kills mother, is chased by furies and put on trial. Finally, when the jury is split, son escapes death thanks to the casting vote of the judge, the goddess Athene, who breaks the cycle of revenge.

Although this production retains plentiful allusions to the ancient world of gods and portents - including a dream in which two eagles tear apart a pregnant hare - the characterization and the set, with a family dining table as its centerpiece, are intended to convey a strong sense of everyday familiarity.   Continued...