Theatre review: Oresteia – This Restless House

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Edinburhg International Festival: It’s not for the faint-hearted; but the Edinburgh International Festival theatre programme thunders to a thrilling conclusion with this bloody and brilliant revival of Zinnie Harris’s great reworking of Aeschylus’s Oresteian trilogy, first seen at the Citizens’ Theatre last year.

Lyceum Theatre

****

As in the original drama, now 2,500 years old, Harris’s subject is an apparently unending cycle of violence, horror and revenge, triggered when the king of Argos, Agamemnon, kills his daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice to ensure his victory in the Trojan war.

The text of this new version, though, is a complete and spectacular rewriting of the original, which frames the events in a world both contemporary and timeless, and achieves a major shift away from the patriarchal perspective of the original, placing Iphigenia’s younger sister Electra at the very heart of the drama, as the three plays unfold.

Dominic Hill’s spectacular production – set by designer Colin Richmond in a bleak and grungy hallway, brilliantly lit by Ben Ormerod – whisks us in split-second altered states from the night-club sleaze of Clytemnestra’s court to the slaughterhouse of the palace kitchen, the icy forests of hell, and, in Harris’s version of the final play, the wards and hallways of a modern mental hospital where the windows must be kept shut, for fear of the Furies that claw and thunder outside.

George Anton as Agamemnon, Pauline Knowles as Clytemnestra, and Olivia Morgan as Electra, lead a remarkable ensemble cast of 13 – including a memorable chorus of old down-and-outs at the palace gates – who dance, sing, and help deliver Nikola Kodjabashia’s stunning live score of sound and music. And in the end, like Aeschylus, Harris also brings her story to a resolution; not, though, through the intervention of the gods and the institution of a patriarchal civil order, but through a girl’s simple request – echoed again and again in the wars of our own time, about which Harris has written so much – for an end to all of this, for a setting-aside of old fears that create their own monsters, and for permission to play.

Until 27 August. Today 6pm.