Getting inside the Oresteia is hard work. For The Company, the challenge is getting out.
Project Arts Centre
My review of The Rest Is Action coming up just as soon as I have sacrificial victims on the altar bleeding all over my house ...
What did we have before tragedy? In the vacuum before Aeschylus' Oresteia - a trilogy of texts from classical Greece that systemised theatre as both a canon and a culture - maybe we would have recognised something in the piercing gesture of actor Brian Bennett which, while devoid of meaning, is funnily stylish and compelling. Co-actor Nyree Yergainharsian intuitively identifies the movement as something seminal: the murder of Clytemnestra - the femme fatal from Aeschylus' drama. Have we allowed fiction to blur with reality?
Originally performed in 458 BC, the world of the Oresteia is understandably difficult to breach. Director José Miguel Jiminez shrouds the stage in mist and darkness, leaving the actors to trail wearily with torches. A vast screen encloses the auditorium and becomes the canvas for Mick Cullinan's gorgeous illustrations of flocking birds and spiralling prayers.
Personal gestures are absorbed into the Greek drama as Rob McDermott, who once had a habit of rubbing his head to signal that he is thinking, raises hand to forehead in awesome power as the visionary Cassandra. Bennett's sword-wielding Agamemnon hilariously cuts his opponents down to size but there is a feeling that he's trying to pick an even bigger fight. "You gotta do what you gotta do" he says endurably, battling his way through army after army. "And when you do, you get there".
The idea seems to be to illustrate 'Tragedy' as a code invented by the Oresteia and still somehow influencing the present. While phrasings such as 'You gotta do what you gotta do" and "Does that make you feel like the most important person in the world?" are pushed, alluding to a world embedded with hierarchies and violence, the linkages between Aeschylus and the present aren't fully realised. A culture of aggression is connoted by discreet scenes of rigorous prayer, slavery and a war hero's celebrated return but they need to be reinforced and given urgency.
In a tragedy someone's got to die, and it's Yergainharsian who takes the fall (in one hell of a sound bite by designer Stephen Dodd). Before she does though she fatefully sees the nine beacons, lit beautifully from behind the canvas. They signal the fall of Troy, and with it a culmination of mythology. With greater clarity, The Rest Is Action could inspire us to seek new orders under which to live.
What did everybody else think?