Classic Greek play on politics and justice

Award winning leading theatre director Blanche McIntyre (pictured) is set to direct former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes’ translation of classic Greek play The Oresteia at Home from 23 October until 14 November.

The play’s central themes of politics and justice alongside its visceral text will be played out by a six-strong cast accompanied by a chorus of 50 Manchester people at each performance.

The use of a local chorus at the centre of the production is unique to the Manchester production, which is the third of the year following shows in London at the Almeida and Shakespeare’s Globe.

First performed in 458 BC, The Oresteia, the only surviving Ancient Greek trilogy in existence, comprises three of the most important plays of all time – Agamemnon, Choephori, and Eumenides.

In Agamemnon, Clytemnestra prepares for her husband to come home. Ten years ago, Agamemnon murdered their child to buy the gods’ support for a dubious war. Far off their son, Orestes, waits – if Agamemnon is murdered, Orestes must avenge him. Choephori picks up the story with Orestes’ return and dramatises the creation of a mental state that can kill. Stopping the cycle of violence is the subject of Eumenides. It will need a total reconfiguring of the universe, from the demons of the underworld to the gods themselves, and requires the invention of a new concept: justice.

The action moves across time and space. Each cast member takes one role, swapping genders and ages through the plays: one Clytemnestra, one killer (Aegisthus/Orestes), one patriarch (Agamemnon/Electra/Apollo), and one truth-teller (Watchman/Cassandra/Nurse/Athena). With two chorus leaders, they move from gods to rulers to underworld characters of darkness, and all stops in-between.

Blanche McIntyre says: “The Oresteia marked the beginning of drama as we know it. A family locked in a cycle of bloodshed, the legacy of a brutal war, the first ever court case, the invention of justice, the clashing principles of kingship and the good of the people – The Oresteia has themes running through it which have formed the bedrock of so much drama during the past 2,500 years.

“The Oresteia is a great civic drama. It is about movement from government by family to the will of the people, and about the movement of humans from primeval darkness into light. It feels right to be doing this in Manchester, a great city with a long, noble, and continuing history of agitation for the greater good.

“This is why it is important for the production to centre around the voice of the citizens of Manchester. The people are the central driving force of each play, and our chorus form a key element of the production. And there is a broader contemporary significance. The story has parallels both in conflicts across the globe and in truth and reconciliation commissions.”

The Oresteia runs Friday 23 October to Saturday 14 November.  Tickets priced £10.00 – £29.50.  Tickets on Friday 23 October all priced at £10.
There will be an introduction to the Oresteia on Wednesday 4 November from 6pm.

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image credit Dominic Parkes