A visceral and modern reworking of Aeschylus's Greek tragedy
Aeschylus's original tragedy in three acts followed the story of the house of Atreus: queen Clytemnestra murders her husband Agamemnon, then their son Orestes avenges Agamemnon, before facing trial in the final play. Here Zinnie Harris rewrites the script, shifting focus onto the two main female characters. Clytemnestra becomes a more sympathetic character, whose grief at the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia drives her to alcohol and ultimately madness, while Electra, her surviving daughter, is haunted by the vengeful ghost of a father she barely knew, becomes more active in the eventual murder of her mother.
Harris's excellent writing is complimented by Dominic Hill's skilful direction, which sees the ghosts of Iphigenia and Agamemnon lingering onstage, haunting their relatives to the point of madness. The multi-talented cast take turn performing and playing Nikola Kodjabashia's live soundtrack; the metallic, loud music accompanies Clytemnestra's increasing folly, and adds an eerie, ominous quality to the claustrophobic and blood-soaked atmosphere. Unfortunately, its dissonance is occasionally overplayed and, after a while, only serves to distract from the main action.
The third act, unexpectedly set in a modern mental hospital where Electra's doctor is a former patient and facing her own family tragedy, doesn't blend in as seamlessly with two previous parts. Yet the set and direction still provide memorable sequences: Electra's hallucination, which takes place in a forest and on a snowy mountain, is as beautiful as it is mesmerising.
But ultimately, it's the quieter scenes that produce the bigger impact — for instance the covert meetings of Electra and brother Orestes, where Olivia Morgan and Lorn Macdonald deliver stellar performances. These scenes, where George Anton's eerie Agamemnon as the ghost of their father observes their meeting and influences their fate, remain one of the most striking moments of this epic tragedy, repurposed to reveal the political dimensions of this family conflict and challenging the patriarchal assumptions expressed in Aeschylus' iconic trilogy.
Citizens, Glasgow, 5–9 September