Clytemnestra

Wed 16th – Sat 19th November 2011

reviews

Joshua Phillips

at 00:07 on 18th Nov 2011

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What to make of this play? I really, really wanted to love it; I wanted to be able to write a rave review crowned with five shining gold stars. Believe me, I really did want to. But it was not to be: I didn’t know what to make of the play when I left the theatre, and I still do not now.

A part of me wants to say, look, the play is in a language that has been dead for thousands of years: of course you can’t expect it to be like a modern-day English play, and you shouldn’t watch it as such. Certainly, a vast amount of effort went into it, and that much is evident: "Clytemnestra" is far from bad, certainly. One aspect which stands out is the choreography, inspired by Japanese Noh theatre; at times it is organic and flowing, at others, it is terse and fitful. In places, the choreography is nothing short of beautiful, notably in an early set piece involving the Chorus, the tomb of Agamemnon and ribbons, and at the end of the play, when the Furies mass and descend upon Orestes. In others, however, the play’s Brechtian conceit is stretched too far for comfort: rather than advancing the sense of pathos conveyed by the dialogue, it becomes silly, shifting to bathos at crucial moments: Orestes (Jack Noutch) striking a funky pose before murdering Aegisthus (Nicholas West) is funny, perhaps, but out of place when compared to the translation of the play’s script, acting as subtitles.

Equally odd is the music: at the play’s opening, we see Orestes in a kimono, in front of a pair of Japanese screen walls, as some distinctly oriental music is played. “I can see what they’re doing here!”, you crow, but then the rot sets in. After this, the next music that we hear is a harsh chime at irregular intervals, punctuating the motion of the Chorus. Alright, it’s unsettling, but isn’t that the whole driving force behind the play? It is a fundamentally Brechtian production, is it not? Perhaps, but by the time the second act rolls in, swells of techno underscoring climatic moments just don’t fit, and the play would work just as well, if not better, without them.

Of course, this is not to say that the acting is poor: among others, Jack Noutch as Orestes is excellent, commanding a range of tone and emotion that would be impressive in English, never mind ancient Greek, and the Chorus manage to carry both complex choreography and vocal acrobatics to a remarkable level. What is even more remarkable is that three out of the five members did not either speak Greek or study Classics before starring in Clytemnestra.

So, how can I end this? The same way that I started it: with the admission that I really do not know what to make of this play. I do sympathise with the ideas behind the play, with the difficulty in staging a play entirely in ancient Greek, but it just doesn’t work as a cohesive whole. Was it an interesting performance? Yes, undoubtedly. Would I consider it an enjoyable performance? Perhaps not.

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Emma Yandle

at 11:06 on 18th Nov 2011

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Disclaimer: This play is performed in ancient Greek.

With hindsight it seems obvious from its titling as 'The Greek Play' and that whole 130 year tradition I'm learning about as I read the description on The Playhouse website a little more carefully.

I was helpfully told to think of it as Opera, so for those of us not fluent in a dead language, there were subtitles. This lead to a strange experience of reading and seeing the play at once. Or really, doing these alternatively, because the subtitle screens were on the far left and right of the stage. I imagine this was because of the elaborate set of Clytemnestra, but I think I would have had a much more coherent experience of the play if the words had been placed in my eye-line.

Really though, the highlight of the play was the wonderful delectable sounds afford by the ancient Greek that I did not understand. It was alien and certainly led me to misunderstand parts of the action as I flicked between the screens and their faces, but every time it lost me, it drew me back in, entranced. To the untrained ear, the Greek sounded wonderful. Equally, the visual beauty of the play was often enough to keep me involved. I watched intently an entire scene of chorus members gradually sacrificing ribbons: I had totally lost what was going on, but the tortured faces of the and the loving manner in which they drew out startlingly purple ribbons moved me, without understanding.

The production team had obviously put a lot of thought into how to make engaging a play that the vast majority of the audience would not understand. Consequently the set was very impressive, beginning with slatted blinds behind which were silhouetted concubines stood, as decorations on some ancient vase. Act II saw floor to ceiling marble doors, that opened as if automatically when characters appeared or disappeared. Perhaps most helpful of all was the original score by Alexander Reut-Hobbs which wonderfully evoked the highly wrought emotions of a Greek Tragedy, but in a far from ancient manner: discordant clicks accompanied important movements of characters, drums built up anticipation before the curtains even opened and through sheer repetition got under my skin. The music certainly became an important character in the play, but one that didn’t really know how to end itself: snippets would burst on to stage and burst off just as suddenly, which sometimes felt a bit amateurish and jarring.

Highlights include the chorus who really held together a play in which the first Act consisted of Electra and Orestes taking to centre stage and spouting their woes; the chorus kept the feel of dramatic action and audience interest. Their command of such long chunks of Greek was extremely impressive and their synchronicity, in movement and lines was very good. Because of this, on the occasions it did slip or when the Director decided that they should behave more individually felt out of place and ruined their allusion of one body made from many.

Jack Noutch as Orestes commanded the stage, but the actor who hit the balance between realism and stylising most successfully was Helen Slaney as the Nurse. The standout scene of the play was without a doubt the revelation of the death of Clytemnestra and Aegisthos. The marble doors opened and we see them standing with their backs to the audience. Aegisthos gently crumples and falls across the white steps below him. A moment passes. Then Clytemnestra folds inwards and lies across him, her neck extended out towards the audience, covered in blood. Orestes stands in the doorway, the agent of their demise. A scene or so later he says ‘Living or dying, I will be remembered for this’ (a wonderful line from Annabel Currie’s beautiful translation). I will certainly remember this play.

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