GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES TACKLES THE ROUGHAGE
Almeida Theatre – until 18 July 2015
The Oresteia is probably one of those stories you don’t know. Until you start watching it again. Only then, piecing together fragments, does it slowly resurface. It’s a muddle of murders. Each one justifying the next, avenging the last.
This is a sleek stage – all glass screens, marble floor and the full sweep of the bricky back wall exposed. But the play is drawn thin. Action is bunched and the pondering spaced out, as if we cannot be trusted with too much entertainment. The reworking by Robert Icke leaves tremendous voids in the interest. Spectacular murders – limbs flailing, blood oozing and lights, walls and eyes flashing – are a sick joy to watch. God Only Knows skips and pulses from the speakers, Luke Thompson’s brilliant Orestes screams and Clytemnestra marches slowly, knife in hand. Brilliant.
But six minutes, tops. The run-up is dull dialogue and simple flourishes, which pay off late late in the evening, but just confuse and bore at the time. Angus Wright has been slowly bled of any charisma as Agamemnon. His voice is like an audiobook and he moves like a pile of ironing. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. As the spark for all these subsequent crimes he sets the ball rolling at a mighty slow pace.
Lia Williams’ Clytemnestra is much more accomplished, squeezing him out of every scene. She even throws herself fully into a strange TV interview and dreary victory speech – two indulgent moments by Icke. Their only addition was to justify a camera on stage, so the actors’ faces could be seen 4ft behind them but bigger. Stop it, Icke.
As we see more of Jessica Brown Findlay (Electra) or Luke Thompson (Orestes) – the true stars of this play – they mop up all the charisma Angus leaked, and soak up the most passionate scenes. You’re with them and you barely notice the others. Lia Williams, even in the throes of her most emotional scenes, enunciates perfectly. Where she was too crisp, they were nicely rough.
The gems make it hard to hate the rest. It seems unfortunate, but this play only mobilised any merit when there was a knife in hand or an eye brimming with tears. The endless chatter, darting from the meaning of justice and the meaning of words (yes….words!) to the exclamation “why do we do things” does the rest a terrible injustice. In the end some bite comes back but above all it is the masterful set-pieces and the brief chilling, thrilling asides which take hold. There are treats along the way – but only if you stomach a hefty amount of roughage.
Box Office: 020 7359 4404 to 18th July
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Until 18th July