A warning from Greek history

The Oresteia
The Oresteia

The Oresteia, HOME, Manchester

Until November 14.

It seems to be something of a rite of passage for newly-built theatres to ‘blood’ themselves – sometimes literally – in the traditions and gory heritage of ancient Greek drama.

The Lowry in Salford did it 14 years ago with a marathon all-day staging of Sir Peter Hall’s Tantalus, and here Manchester’s newest cultural centre picks up the tail-end of the same ancient legend with its staging of The Oresteia.

This though is the highly-condensed 100-minute adaptation, translated by Ted Hughes. What it makes up for in brevity, however, it sacrifices to clarity.

The Oresteia details the unhappy homecoming of a conquering hero, his murder, and the state’s subsequent descent into tyranny.

In its time, 2,500 years ago, it was a cautionary government warning about justice and democracy always taking priority over violence and revenge.

The relevance is not lost down the centuries, and this is the third production of the play in the UK this year alone.

It is a family drama played out around gods and mortals, but one where those personalities are much less fully-formed characters than outspoken orators, hurling aphorisms at eachother. As such it becomes much more of a challenge to engage with their dilemmas.

Using a cast of just five, and bending the age and gender of some of their 13 portrayals, becomes another level of perplexity. Director Blanche McIntyre imbues it all with a raw and elemental style, heightened by the use of a community chorus of a score or more amateur actors.

Laura Hopkins’ stage design utilises this venue’s abundant technology and creates moments of effective power, even if one or two seem to be interrupted by mis-timed or uncertain lighting effects, or maybe it was an attempt to light up the auditorium and make the audience more complicit in the action?

David Upton