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
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.