The Oresteia, The Lowry Quays Theatre, Salford,
28 November 2018
A story of blood-for-blood revenge crime as a family seeks vengeance on each other, The Oresteia is the story of the fall of the house of Atreus. An ancient Greek myth, originally staged two-and-a-half-thousand years ago by Aeschylus, Splendid Productions have turned this ancient story into a hard-hitting piece of epic theatre which begs the question – does anyone truly deserves death?
Three furies tell the story; goddesses of vengeance who are charged with pursuing and driving mad anyone who has taken the life of a family member. Nuala Maguire, Grace Goulding and Tanya Muchanyuka play these three, wrathful Erinyes; exploring how the women in this ancient story have never been given a voice. Despite being muzzled themselves by traditional crinolines, these three women make it their duty to allow the voices of the female characters to be heard.
Kerry Frampton’s modernisation of the story uses cold, emotionless police reports to highlight to the audience that murder is more than a dead body, it is a horrific and gruesome act. Does anyone deserve that? Is murder ever okay? Iphigenia allowed herself to be sacrificed and Clytemnestra was killed as an act of vengeance. Does that make either act acceptable? The audience are left to decide.
The performers are slick, in tune with each other and at times absolutely hilarious. Their seamless ability to break the fourth-wall is commendable. The audience, full, no doubt of A Level students, are given a masterclass in Epic Theatre. Maguire, Goulding and Muchanyuka are a well-polished chorus and exceptional character actors. Their beautiful use of animalistic idiosyncrasies as the furies is highly effective and their multi-role play clean, swift and physical.
What was particularly engaging and interesting about this production was how it all ties together as a social commentary on the rights and voices of women. Governors, parliamentarians and pockets of the general public are parodied to highlight their views towards women in power, despite being satirical, this demonstrates a chilling truth about how society continues to judge women.
There are many effective theatrical moments in this production: beautiful use of British sign language as a storytelling device, the way hanging cloths are used to trap and shroud Electra and Cassandra respectively, the use of song and music, and many mode ideas on a list too long to include.
This short, one act performance poses a heck of a lot of questions for the audience. It is a fine example of didactic theatre and will no doubt be well received as it tours theatre schools over the coming months.
The Oresteia is yet another brilliantly adapted and stylised educational piece from Splendid Productions. The Quays Theatre at The Lowry filled up with theatre studies students, and Nuala Maguire, Grace Goulding and Tanya Muchanyuka did an expert job at keeping them engaged for the whole hour long show.
Aeschylus’ tale of murder and vengeance is traditionally in three parts, the trilogy exploring revenge and justice as a family brutally tears itself apart via ‘The Furies’, female infernal goddesses, who narrate the tale murder by murder – feeding on injustice.
This is where Splendid struck brilliance – not only was the show engaging and easily accessible to the audience, they kept incredibly dark themes light with humour, audience banter, music and hyperbolic characterisation; but it was also highly topical and modernised to be just as relevant in the present day.
As with any Brechtian adaptation, there was no set design, or props as such, simple costume symbolism – everything was acted out by the trio on stage using only red scarves to distinguish each character visually. The Furies wore red caged skirts when they were acting ‘civilised’, which became an icon for the pieces themes as a whole, especially paired with heart shaped rose-tinted glasses!
The Furies put on these caged skirts when they felt the need to be civilised, which the text explores the idea of in questioning the legal justice system, but they were mostly used as a metaphor for how women were so drastically oppressed in Ancient Greece, and the modernising made it impossible not to apply it to modern day. Intrinsically feminist, this piece gives a voice to the voiceless women powerfully and factually with no room for misinterpretation.
With adlibbing including references to ‘the wall’, ‘nasty women’, political scandal, distraction techniques, calling out privilege and ensuring all positions of power were questioned as well as showcasing all the ways that women were exploited and scrutinised whilst men were showered with adoration Splendid Productions did a more than excellent job at dragging a text from 5BC straight into 2018.
The house lights remain on for this relaxed performance, more of a workshop than a night at the theatre, The Oresteia uses so many levels and mediums, including (some very catchy!) songs, soundscapes, musicality, symbolism and choral work to deliver a brilliant adaptation that students and theatre-goers alike would be lucky to catch.