Translated by Ted Hughes
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
23rd October to 14th November 2015
Two thousand years ago, Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote a trilogy of tragedies recounting the bloody legend of the house of Atreus. Power, justice and revenge intertwine as family members kill each other down the generations, provoking divine anger.
Fast forward to HOME in 2015 and the three plays – in Ted Hughes’s translation – have been condensed into one. This hacking-down of the script means that the whole 105-minute affair moves at a jogging pace, never quite allowing us to relax. While the resulting tension has its merit, the cuts also mean that some of the wonderful set-pieces of the trilogy are lost, such as the speech by the terrifying Furies in which they describe themselves as hunting-dogs tracking the blood of the murderer Orestes.
There is a niggling sense of a struggle with the material and its context – why, for instance, are Agamemnon and Electra played by the same actor; or Aegisthus and his own murderer Orestes? Admittedly, ‘doubling up’ and men playing women were mainstays of the ancient Athenian stage, but so were masks and singing – absent here. Many of the creative decisions are hits, but there are a surprising number of oddities, such as clumsy-looking lighting changes, or moving the chain-link backdrop down several metres at one point, only to inexplicably move it back up again later.
Everything is visually stunning, from the Watchman making her opening speech from a swing suspended in the air, to the gruesomely twitching Furies whose struggle forms the play’s close. And the decision to dress the gods in all-white jodhpurs, boots and shirts, like heavenly sergeant-majors, is this production’s best interpretive move: it interacts brilliantly with the imperialistic undertones of the original. The cast are strong, particularly Lyndsey Marshal’s subtle Clytemnestra, and the community chorus speak well in unison without losing their individual differences. It’s a shame that the experience is cluttered with strange moments – that dithering backdrop, an underused metaphor involving a sandcastle, Electra disappearing into a hole in the ground for some reason – leaving us perplexed as well as impressed.