THIS RESTLESS HOUSE
CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
The auguries were good for This Restless House, the new trilogy based on The Oresteia and co-produced by Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland. Written by Zinnie Harris (author of Further Than the Furthest Thing; which is, arguably, the greatest tragedy in the Scottish theatrical canon) and directed by Dominic Hill (currently Scotland’s foremost classical director), it delivers on its promise in very large measure.
Although Harris is largely faithful to Aeschylus’s narrative line, she innovates brilliantly. In the searing first play, Agamemnon’s Return, the revenge of Clytemnestra (Pauline Knowles on utterly compelling form) is a dish served with a raging heat.
Sex and death (tragedy’s eternal twins) are to the fore. Agamemnon (the truly magisterial George Anton) meets his demise in a powerfully realised moment that he mistakes for erotic ecstasy.
In part two, The Bough Breaks, the warrior king’s ever-present ghost demands retribution, like a malevolent incarnation of Hamlet’s father. In a departure from Aeschylus’s story, it is the afflicted princess Electra (the excellent Olivia Morgan), not her wretched brother Orestes (a convincingly distracted Lorn MacDonald), who grasps the bloody hand of destiny.
The first two plays, although relocated to an abstracted modern world, are strongly rooted in the primal power of the original dramas. In the third, entitled Electra and Her Shadow, Harris strays furthest from The Oresteia, testing our credulity in the process.
For sure, Aeschylus’s concluding play, The Eumenides, with its supernatural tormentors, is open to a 21st-century psychological reading. However, the sudden jump from the almost timeless settings of the first two pieces to a recognisably contemporary psychiatric hospital destabilises the structure of the trilogy. Ironically, part three, in which a new character (patient-turned-psychiatrist Audrey) comes to the fore, would be more successful if it were cut loose from its two siblings.
Nikola Kodjabashia’s atmospheric sound and music is performed live by a universally talented cast (although the journeys into song are sometimes gratuitous). Colin Richmond’s set is pleasingly sparse, even if its framing concept (it looks like a dilapidated 1970s social club) is needlessly confusing.
The shift in tone between parts two and three may be disconcerting, but This Restless House still feels like a major achievement nevertheless. Harris writes in a rich, pungent, modern vernacular, while Hill directs with his typical combination of intelligent inventiveness and confident style.
Until May 15. For further information, visit: citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on May 4, 2016
© Mark Brown