(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/7.)
Praise is due to Robert Icke for his boldness in freely adapting Aeschylus’s great trilogy, for the visual elan of his production and for some fine performances from a 10-strong cast. Yet Icke sometimes substitutes neurotic intensity for what a Greek professor once called “the formal calm that pervades Aeschylus and Greek tragedy”. The best sections in this four-act, 3hr 40-min-version are the beginning and the end.
Icke daringly extrapolates from an Aeschylean chorus the drama of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to prosecute a war. We not only get beautifully staged scenes around the fractious family dinner table, but find striking performances: Angus Wright memorably expresses the mental anguish of a divided leader, while Lia Williams is brilliant as a horrified Klytemnestra who pummels her belly as she cries: “This is my child – part of my body.” By placing so much stress on the initial child-murder, Icke also lends weight to the concluding act, in which Orestes is tried for killing Klytemnestra. The case for and against is presented in forensic detail, leaving Orestes technically exculpated – on the grounds that “we favour men in all things” – but haunted by moral guilt.