Mairead McKinley (Electra)Orestes

Adapted from Euripedes by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Nancy Meckler
Liverpool Playhouse (24th-28th October 2006)

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This engrossing production by Shared Experience presented the savagery and bloodletting of ancient Greece as vividly described by Euripides, and cast its spell over the audience.

I have little knowledge of Greek tragedies but Orestes was very comprehensible, probably because a lot of the issues incorporated within the play (penned in 408 BC), still poignantly apply today - for example the falsehoods surrounding the invasion of Iraq by the USA, UK and other allies, which has led to the slaughter of over 650,000 people there.

This wanton mass killing also took place in Greece, with life having little value as far as the leaders of the armed forces were concerned. Sound familiar?

The story of Orestes (Alex Robertson), son of Agamemnon, King of Argos, revolves around the banishment of the king by his mother, who was subsequently killed in revenge by Orestes with the help of his sister Electra (Mairead McKinley).

The slaying of his mother drives Orestes into fits of madness, and he sometimes feels abandoned by the god Apollo, but at other times he proclaims that Apollo ordered him to do the killing.

Orestes and Electra adore each other, their strong feelings for one other bordering on incest.

The play opens with her nursing him six days after his foul deed. He is haunted by the demons who condemn him for his act. As with the rest of the characters he delivers some profound and richly textured lines.

His insanity increases as his plight grows worse. The appearance of the adulterous Helen (Clara Onyemere) and then her self-seeking husband, Menelaos (Tim Chipping) makes him fall into further despair.

As with King Lear, written two thousand years later, the figure of Orestes comes across as a sometimes sympathetic and wise madman, living in a world where madness is the norm and so called sanity is not to be trusted or respected.

I cannot praise this play too highly.

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