Aeschylus, translation by Robert Fagles
London Actors Group
The Courtyard Theatre
One can't deny that Aeschylus was a brilliant playwright. His works are loaded with symbolism, imagery and heightened emotion. His prize-winning Oresteia, detailing Agamemnon's return from Troy and the aftermath, is one of the few surviving trilogies of Greek tragedy. But watching badly done Aeschylus is like watching badly done Shakespeare; unfortunately, watching the London Actors Group perform Agamemnon is very much like watching amateur Shakespeare.
For those unfamiliar with the play, and for those who have watched this production and would like to know what it was they just saw, the basic plot is that Agamemnon has been away ten years fighting in Troy. Before he left, terrible storms were preventing him from setting sail, so he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to appease the Gods. Now, his wife Clytemnestra has news that he is returning and plans his murder to avenge Iphigenia.
After craning our necks to see the opening passage delivered by the Watchman sitting behind the audience, the Greek chorus enter. Although there are many of them, the black box theatre seems to swallow them. Many of their lines fall flat and some are unintelligible. In particular, two prayers to the Gods are lost amidst the loud music and the stamping of feet. When the play was first performed, the Greek audience would already have known of the history of Troy and the House of Atreus and would understand Aeschylus's references; nowadays not everyone is so familiar with the Greek myths. The play is difficult enough to follow without the added obstacles of bad diction and bad sound balance.
For a play that relies so heavily on its chorus, there is very little sense of union in the ensemble. Together, they look and sound sloppy, not even pronouncing names in the same way, and often distract from the main action.
Clytemnestra, a terrifically strong and subtle character, is played by Victoria May. However, the character is destroyed in the first few lines as May screams at the chorus, making her look like the weak and emotional woman the chorus think she is rather than the strong and proud queen that Aeschylus wrote her as. Although May regains some of this as the play goes on, she never recovers from that initial outburst.
The play finally picks up with the entrance of Philip Knight as Agamemnon. Despite being dressed like a bizarre costume party ninja, he gives a charismatic performance. Although he misses some nuances of the script, he shows the best understanding of his character and the text, leading the audience to a better understanding of what the hell is going on.
An audience member who doesn't know about the Greek laws of hospitality or the seriousness of an act of hubris will be more lost at sea than any ship of Menelaus. The London Actors Group does nothing to help the audience with these foreign and ancient concepts. Even things that could have been established easily, such as indicating that the random man speaking at the end is actually Clytemnestra's lover Aegisthus, are ignored.
For those who have never studied the Greeks, this production will be a complete waste of time; for those who have, it might still prove to be.
Reviewer: Emma Berge