The last time I gave the Trojan War any thought was sat in a year 9 history lesson, so I knew that attending an open air production of The Oresteia Trilogy of Aeschylus would be an educational experience, if nothing else.
The trilogy begins with the story of The Trojan Horse. Aimed at a younger audience, The Scoop, a delightful open air space on the Southbank, filled up very quickly with families. This production, directed by Phil Wilmott, is free of charge to the public, making it accessible to everyone and perhaps encourages younger people to expose themselves to theatrical experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t. The cast relies heavily on these junior audience members to interact with during the show, breaking the fourth wall and involving them in some of the scenes. Using catchy songs and modern slang, the story is told in a way that is easy to understand, also using minimal staging and basic costumes they manage to create a believable world in which Menelaus (John Last) and friends storm into Troy to rescue Helen (Latoya Lees) from her misogynistic and self-obsessed captor, Paris (Jordan Lee), using a few bits of driftwood and an owl puppet called ‘Noctua’ (operated by Amy Murray), who saves the day. Parts of the show seem a little Blue Peter-eqsue at time, but whether this ‘over-acting’ was a conscious effort to engage the kids or not, it doesn’t detract from the overall charm.
Notable performances are Natalia Campbell and Nicholas Corre. Both boast the best vocals and are the most captivating in their portrayals of the fickle wife of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and the camp servant Sinon respectively. The latter performs a particularly great comedy solo ‘What have the Greeks ever done for us,’ which received the biggest applause of the evening.
The second part of the trilogy, Agamemnon, focuses on the title character’s return from the Trojan War to find his wife, the previously mentioned Clytemnestra, not as loyal to him as she once was. This is treated as a serious play, and is rather intense in comparison to the first part of the trilogy, but allows the same actors to show some real depth as performers, and again, Natalia Campbell is the star of the show as the tortured wife who goes slowly mad dealing with the fact that her husband murdered their first-born child. It works very well, despite a few uncomfortable moments when Cassandra, Agamemnon’s prisoner, experiences prophecies where the God Apollo uses her body to give messages to the other characters. I found it slightly over the top and hard to take seriously but other than that it was an interesting, if less entertaining, sequel to the first part.
Sadly, Orestes, the third and final part of the trilogy was rained off ten minutes into the performance, but the beauty of free theatre like this is that it is easy to go back another time to catch it.
Despite my initial reservations it turned out to be a delightful, gritty and suitably comedic production that left me with a smile on my face…and feeling considerably more intelligent than when I arrived. It’s fantastic that great theatre like this, executed with such professionalism and class, can be accessed for free by people who could not otherwise afford to experience it, and I for one will be going back to see what else The Scoop has to offer in the future.
You can see The Oresteia Trilogy of Aeschylus every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night throughout July, free of charge, at The Scoop.
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By Caroline Cronin @CazCronin
5 July – 5 August 2012
The Scoop, London, SE1.