This Restless House

Theatrical serendipity currently means that, after some masculine brutality set during the latter stages of the ancient siege of Troy (in the Royal Lyceum’s new adaptation of Homer’s Iliad), a determined audience member need travel just an hour or so west to the Citizens Theatre to find out what happened next to at least some of the victors when they returned home.

Combined with Niloa Kodjabashia’s inventive, live-performed sound design, this is an enveloping world which balances despair with optimisim, horror with laughter, and a real glimpse of justice and hope.

In outline at least, Zinnie Harris’s This Restless House follows Aeschylus’s 2,500 year old template – the three play Oresteia – clearly enough: in Agamemnon’s Return, the titular King of Argos comes home victorious from Troy to face the murderous wrath of his wife Clytemnestra, who has never forgiven him for sacrificing their eldest daughter Iphigenia to the gods in order to ensure victory. In The Bough Breaks, Clytemnestra’s bloody murder of Agamemnon is revenged by their surviving children – son Orestes, after whom the original trilogy of plays are named, and youngest daughter Electra. Finally, in Electra And Her Shadow, the pair must escape the Furies aroused by such matricide and face a judgement in which justice ends an otherwise endless cycle of revenge.

Harris retains and reworks much of this – not least the traditional chorus, initially reimagined here as three reprobate “gentlemen of the street” all too willing to address the audience directly and throw in some local jokes as they “info-dump” the back story. Yet Harris’s authorial focus is starkly different from Aeschylus’s; her’s is on the women, not the men. In Part 1, the centre of attention is Pauline Knowles’s astounding Clytemnestra – furious, maternal, glamorous, sultry and often drunk. In Part 2, she shares the spotlight with Olivia Morgan’s Electra – a wiry, old-before-her-time survivor. In Part 3, our focus is chiefly on Electra, not least when she ends up hiding in a somewhat worn down psychiatric hospital.

This is not to deny the importance of the men in the story: George Anton is a powerfully grizzly Agamemnon – a worn, tired and openly flawed giant in Part 1, reduced to a lonely, bloodied and unseen ghost in the later plays. Cliff Burnett and George Costigan have the right comedic edge as members of the chorus, although particular praise must go to Lorn MacDonald, whose switch from chorus member to the itch-wracked Orestes is so startling it’s hard to believe the two are performed by the same actor.

Even during the first two plays, set in the years following the destruction of Troy, there is no real attempt here at period verisimilitude; director Dominic Hill opts for a worn jumble-sale approach to costumes, as the cast perform within Colin Richmond’s garage-like set which proves remarkably adaptable during the course of the three plays. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design, meantime, is superb; atmospheric and not afraid to paint with the brightest colours as we move from ancient Greek palace to forest dreamscape to psychological hospital ward. Combined with Niloa Kodjabashia’s inventive, live-performed sound design, this is an enveloping world which balances despair with optimisim, horror with laughter, and a real glimpse of justice and hope. A startlingly bold, inventive, and heartfelt production.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A father’s horrifying sacrifice of his daughter sets in motion a cycle of bloody revenge and counter-revenge. As his family rots from the inside as a result of his brutal act, the loyalties of his surviving children are pushed to the extreme. The curse that has gripped the family for generations looks as if it will never end.

This Restless House, based on the epic Greek trilogy The Oresteia, is an exhilarating theatrical event and contemporary take on an ancient drama that has survived two and a half thousand years.

Re-imagined in a gripping new trilogy of plays by Zinnie Harris (BBC’s Spooks and Partners in Crime and plays Further Than the Furthest Thing, How to Hold Your Breath and The Wheel). Dominic Hill directs, with music by Nikola Kodjabashia (A Christmas Carol, Hamlet, Crime and Punishment) and designed by Colin Richmond (Crime and Punishment, Doctor Faustus).