I am becoming a Greek play tourist; having become a regular attender at the Cambridge play, and the King's College London one, I decided to strike out for Oxford. While Oxford's tradition of performance of a play has not been as regular as Cambridge's. Amanda Wrigley, formerly of the Archives of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama, describes its history in her new book, Performing Greek Drama in Oxford†.
This production is of Aeschylus's Libation Bearers, or , the middle play of the Oresteia, but retitled for this production so as to bear the name of Orestes' mother, whom he murders at the end in revenge for her murder of his father Agamemnon at the end of the first play in the trilogy. At the end of Helen Eastman's superb Cambridge production of the Agamemnon, the last sight we saw was the silent figure of Orestes.
Since I am neither a proper classicist, nor a skilled drama critic, take everything I say cum grano salo. It was a good, and in places very powerful production, particularly in the second half, when Orestes arrives in disguise at the palace where his father was murdered and Clytemnestra lives with her lover, the usurper Aegisthus, to kill them both. Among some strong performances, I particularly liked Jack Noutch's Orestes, and Lucy Jackson as Clytemnestra.
The surtitles were in a new translation, by Arabella Currie; Tom Paulin was also credited with a role. I try not to read these too often but when I did, they seemed clear and in fittingly forceful language for the Greek and the action on stage. However a Japanese setting didn't help, as far as I was concerned. I prefer my Greek drama to look Greek, which is very backward of me. This led to moments, as when Electra and the chorus fanned themselves, when the youthful matinée audience broke into giggles.
The character of Pylades, Orestes' foster-brother and travelling companion, has been excised from this version. True, he only speaks once, when Clytemnestra is pleading for mercy, but the production left in Orestes' references to him, which made it seem as if Orestes had an imaginary friend. To compensate, two non-speaking concubines are added to the cast. While as a general rule I agree one cannot have too many concubines, it was hard to see what they added to the play. They flanked Clytemnestra as she received the disguised Orestes, perhaps to emphasis the corrupt nature of the usurper's court.
There are two performances left, tomorrow afternoon and evening. I would certainly urge anyone in the Oxford area to go.
Some other reviews:
† Wrigley, Amanda
Performing Greek Drama in Oxford and on Tour with the Balliol Players
Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2011