Agamemnon by Steven Berkoff

This production does physical theatre well, which already puts it ahead of a lot of other Fringe shows. It also makes a very good job of updating and contextualising the Aeschylus play upon which it is based so that a modern audience can understand the proper implications of what's actually going on.As well as the play's Aeschylean core, in which Agamemnon returns home from Troy to be butchered by his traitorous wife, the text expands and enacts events which surround and inform the story. The fall of Troy, and the roots of the curse of Atreus (a name annoyingly mispronounced throughout, though that's largely by-the-by) that plagues Agamemnon's family were intimately known by the original audience – obvious not the case today – so these expansions are entirely appropriate. It also allows the script to unobtrusively hijack some of the best moments from other plays such as Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Seneca's Thyestes, adding to the play's dramatic punch.The action is played out by a fluid and capable ensemble, from which protagonists melt in and out as needed. Their fellows form the necessary backdrops: a human pyramid for Clytemnestra's watchman to peer from, the traditional chorus of Argive elders, warriors at Troy. It's not at all confusing, and good choreography and emphatic lighting states help to consistently nail the tone and register of each section.What robs the show of its fourth star, however, is an unsuitable use of the space – it could have been excellent somewhere else. The venue has neither a raised stage nor tiered seating, and many of the physical tableaux which the show presents involve lots of people sitting or crouching. From the middle of the audience, I probably missed out on seeing a quarter of what the show had to offer. Instead I was reduced to playing a frantic swaying game as I, along with 30 others, tried to find a gap in the two moving rows of heads and shoulders in front of me.Another flaw is the production's over-reliance on potted film-score-style music (think 300, Troy or Lord of the Rings) – while at times it achieves the appropriate effect, it remains a cheap shortcut and is at odds with the hands-on invention of the physical theatre aspects elsewhere. In one interlude, the cast sing a rowing chant - at first charming - which gradually slides into an ominous, whispered threat. This kind of effect, using only the cast's voices, is superb and should have been used to provide the entire soundscape, instead of fallback tracks pumped through the venue's sound system.Given the evident youth of the cast (A-level drama students if I heard rightly), they ought to be proud of what they've achieved: a competent and engaging telling of an ancient story which stands up well against similar offerings at the Festival, although it does fall short of being properly great.

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The Blurb

A stunning physical theatre realisation of the classic text. This performance has been described as mesmeric and astonishing, combining dynamic ensemble work with powerful vocal delivery in a performance that should not be missed.

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