The Furies

Durham's Ethrael Theatre presents a musical adaptation of Aeschylus's The Furies, a tale of vengeance, honour, justice and mercy. The Furies, representing the angry, the grudging and the avenger, chase Orestes for his blood after he displays has what a famous Austrian psychiatrist might call 'parental issues' – he killed his mother Clytemnestra, who had killed his father Agamemnon. Athena, goddess of reason and protection, steps in to help settle the conflict, and Apollo acts as Orestes' counsel.

Most enjoyable in the play is the music, with precise vocal harmonies showing strong voices.

Walking into the dark and tiny theatre, the audience are awkwardly required to manoeuvre around the Furies, who lie spread out across the space of the stage. With a central stage, the seats encompass the whole, so that the Furies and the rest are required to perform in the round. Some of the actors never quite adapt to this, and the effect is to render the performances ungainly and often stilted, exacerbated by the venue's intimacy. The straight roles suffer by never coming to terms which the staging's limitations, with a self-regarding Orestes, a worthy Athena, and a very meek and ungodlike Apollo.

The Furies themselves are a potentially grotesque mixture of writhing and gnashing, of constant contortion and twitching, of madness and sexuality played with spitting, stripping subtlety. This unrelenting assault of actorly affectation feels entirely unsuited to small stage, every movement too stressed, every gesture too broad; trying too hard to be over-the-top and in-your-face when the action was already right on top and in the face of the audience. The whole direction feels simplistic and conducted in one overbearing note, the constant exaggeration too repetitive to be emotionally engaging.

Most enjoyable in the play is the music, with precise vocal harmonies showing strong voices. There is an occasional sense of an other-worldly and mythic appeal, which helps to give the choreography a slant of something new. The single violin provides a fitting accompaniment, building up tension and adding to the drama. As the counsel and Athena vote in Orestes' favour, and the Furies are placated and granted their honour, there is a switch to a major key, and a rather abrupt switch in tone.

The Furies represents a Fringe stalwart: a student production of classical theatre. It provides an hour of furious teeth-gnashing, but little to get your teeth into.

Reviews by Alice Quine

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The Blurb

When the Furies want Orestes's blood to pay for the crime of murdering his mother, the gods have other plans. Aeschylus's classic is brought to life through haunting music and beautiful dance in this unique adaptation. A daring and ambitious work which combines multimedia and a variety of performance elements. 'Rivals the best of the classical plays performed' **** ( 'An intense theatrical experience which swept me up and absorbed me in the plot' (The Bubble).