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Orestes: Re-Examined at Southwark Playhouse

An interactive reworking of Aeschylus’ tragic revenge cycle for a contemporary audience.

Produced by Full Tilt Theatre, the resident company at Bath Spa University, this performance is made up of professional practitioners, recent graduates and current students on various theatre programmes at the institution. The large ensemble cast is directed by Emma Gersch, Senior Lecturer on the university's Performing Arts course.

The action begins soon after leaving the box office as audience members are politely ushered into the bar area by men and women dressed in fluorescent jackets. Each spectator is asked to wear a VIP badge that must be clearly visible at all times. Information and images relating to the newly re-generated city of Argos is displayed on a large screen hovering over the bar area and representatives are on hand to answer any questions as well as to promote the re-vitalisation project. When the deputy to Menelaus (Flip Krenus) is suddenly abducted mid-welcome speech, the audience begins its journey into the underworld of murdered Queen Clytemnestra. There, the kidnapped prince Orestes (Matthew Howard) is awaiting his fate bound in chains, having killed his mother in revenge for the death of his father Agamemnon. And Aeschylus' furies, having been reinterpreted as a band of female mercenaries which interestingly adds a feminist agenda to the performance, are intent on avenging the death of their Queen.

Stories relating to human suffering as a result of terrorist and political atrocities have been woven into the text and the performance resonates with the voices of the oppressed both past and present. The continuous exploration of the meaning of the concept of 'justice' inevitably forces the audience to reassess the idea of Western democracy. When chorus members begin to accuse Menelaus (Adrian Francis) of murdering their mothers, brothers, sisters and so forth, his costume (which is indicative of a British Army Major General's uniform) leaves the spectator to deliberate on modern warfare in the name of Western ideals. As lines between enemy and ally are blurred, one begins to wonder if tyranny is often simply masquerading as democracy.

The performance relies heavily upon a very dramatic and emotive soundscore composed by Katherine Hare while Alex Musgrave's lighting design adds yet another layer of narrative to the piece. Alexandra Kharibian's set design of scaffolds, ladders and chains is ambitious however some members of the cast often looked a little uncomfortable when climbing the assembled structure.

Overall, Orestes: Re-Examined is a vibrant and thought-provoking piece of theatre and the commitment of the company to the scale of the project is to be commended. In the end, it is the audience who must decide Orestes' fate and one leaves the Southwark Playhouse with that democratic responsibility weighing heavily upon their shoulders. Orestes: Re-Examined also fully realises the old saying 'There are two sides to every story'.

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