Thursday, 23 May 2019

Youth theatre company triumphs with adaptation of Aeschylus

Youth theatre company triumphs with adaptation of Aeschylus

The Oresteia | Progress Theatre, Reading | Wednesday, December 5

AT first glance, there might appear to be a slight mismatch between a youth theatre and towering Greek tragedy, with its emphasis on murder and revenge.

We might not expect to see 21st century kids playing out the treachery, conflicts and sorrows of the ancient world. But Rhys Lawton’s adaptation balances tragedy with well-pitched humour, to give wings to this version of Aeschylus’s classic.

There is plenty that is sonorous in The Oresteia, such as war stories, ritual and divine intervention. The action is dramatic from the first as the watchman (Dylan Collie) sets the scene for the return of Agamemnon (Jack Hygate) from Troy.

Agamemnon arrives with Trump-like swagger, but events soon take a turn for the worse, since he is coming back to a broken community and, moreover, the knife-wielding Clytemnestra (Cora Jamieson) has a strong set of grudges against her husband.

The roles of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes and Electra are big shoes to fill, so well done to Hygate, Jamieson, Max Hijmering and Ellen Blackburn for representing this gruesome, dysfunctional family and investing their fractious exchanges with meaning.

It falls to Hijmering and Blackburn to take on the play’s prime moral debate about the right course of action in relation to their mother and her new consort Aegisthus (Alex McDonald).

Moral uncertainty persists right to the surprise ending of this innovative production, when the audience is invited to make up their own minds about justice and blame.

Credit to the entire cast who work effectively as a team, with many of the actors taking multiple roles.

Every one of the 10 young players gives this production their all and they have been expertly directed by Rhys Lawton. The chorus, led with gravitas by James Laynesmith, makes a significant and successful contribution to the production.

At times the chorus offers the stylised movement and speech you might expect in a traditional production. But at other times they comment passionately on the action, interact in a naturalistic way and even lark around in a very funny manner.

Special credit is due to Jude Lancaster and Ciaran McElligott, who both bring wry humour to their several roles, and to Isabella McDonald as the down-to-earth Cilissa.

The simple set allows the language and action to dominate, which is as it should be.

Costumes are a clever combination of ancient and modern, to remind the audience that, whilst this is ancient Greek drama, the themes and adult emotions continue to be relevant.

Evocative sound and lighting make this production an all-round triumph. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Until Saturday (December 8).

Susan Creed

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