THEATRE REVIEW: Oresteia

UPDATE: Oresteia transfers to the Trafalgar Studios and runs 22 August to 7 November

Worth a look?: ****

Where: Almeida Theatre

When: 4/7/15 and runs until 18/7/15

Ben Whishaw, star of the next production in the Almeida’s Greek season, is sitting in the venue’s cafe and bar going largely unnoticed as the audience prepares itself for the three-hour-and-40-minute opener Oresteia. Act 3 will be familiar to visitors to Ian Rickson’s Electra (Old Vic 2014 starring Dame Kristin Scott Thomas) and the Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies about justice and revenge.

In a neat touch digital clocks are used not only to chronicle the production’s many deaths but also to time the two intervals and two pauses which break up the show’s challenging 220 minutes. So strictly did the venue’s ushers police the timed intervals, we feared for any audience member unlucky enough to be dawdling outside the theatre when the allotted interval or pause time was over.

Oresteia also marks the theatrical debut of Jessica Brown Findlay, Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey, who holds her own in a strong cast led by Orestes (Luke Thompson, nominated alongside winner Seth Numrich and Olivia Vinall for the 2013 Evening Standard Theatre Award for best newcomer) and his mother played by Lia Williams (pictured above).

This version created by Robert Icke can sometimes confuse as actors play different parts, appear as dreams or frame the story’s legal theme. Exhibits catalogued on those digital screens give the first clues that the courtroom will be this mammoth production’s final destination.

Did Oresteia pass as unnoticed as Whishaw’s appearance in the venue’s bar which opened this review? While perhaps not fun for all the family, Oresteia marks a strong start to the Almeida’s Greek season which continues with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai (23/7 – 19/9) and concludes with Medea (25/9 – 14/11) starring Kate Fleetwood (currently headlining the Old Vic’s musical High Society which closes 22/8).

Oresteia also achieved the unenviable task of whetting the appetite for the rest of the season, as if the contents of three pleated paper cups which feature so heavily, without delivering the knockout blow rendering the final two shows without point.

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