BBC Oresteia 1983

Screenshot 2015-06-08 18.57.28

Screenshot 2015-06-08 18.57.28

“This version of the Oresteia is by The BBC National Theatre, a TV production filmed in 1983, directed by Peter Hall using the Tony Harrison translation and/or adaptation of various translations.
This production has well-crafted masks, which are evocative, non-neutral in psychological terms; the masks seem often to have the expressions that, likely, the ancient thespians, perhaps even the Greek dramatist poets, might approve of with wide-eyed astonishment. The diction and passion of the voices are superb…
…there is one Greek tool that needs banishment from the reproduction of the dramatic literature from Aeschylus through Moliere. Banish the patriarchal and idiotic use of men portraying women. First and foremost it is confusing; second, yet arguably foremost, it panders to the legacy of sexism; third, it is detrimental in its sexism because it denies the performance of talented women in the theater, today. Besides, very few in the audience want to hear only male voices; it is unrealistic and an overarching tragic flaw of theater, until roughly the 19th century. Yes, you could argue that Clytemnestra is a co-opted prisoner of the patriarchy; but she does break free of it, albeit with the help of Aegisthus, perhaps some minor gods and the like.”
— youtube commentor

I went searching for a dramatised version of “Agammemnon” while taking part in the Coursera Greek and Roman Mythology MOOC (more on that in another post.) I found this 80’s interpretation to be powerful. I, for one, enjoyed the fact that all the parts are played by men. Because in this case I feel it works. Not really for the ‘historical accuracy’ of it but just that the gender-play of the words made the already tense subject matter feel more uncanny. Ordinarily I might agree with the commenter, but watch this thing, the actors portraying Clytemnaestra and Cassandra are simply amazing performers. I love the continued word play of ‘he-god’, ‘she-god’ in this context. The performance cadence fills with such epithets (“the doom-groom”, “the blood-clan”) and the syncopation of the words is aided by the funky, very 80’s, musical accompaniment. And I found the staging perfect in its color-symbolism and symmetry.

agamemnon_musing

The story of Clytemnaestra’s killing of Agamemnon has always appealed to me. The use of that single door behind which the murder takes place always called to me. If we hadn’t made FATALE (which is about another famous death, that of St. John the Baptist) then this is the story I would have liked to turn into a videogame the most. Within this, I think most about: the communicating signal-fires from watch tower to watch tower; Agammemnon’s walk along the precious red carpet; And the clairvoyant Cassandra, dragged back from Troy as a war-prize with Apollo’s double-edged gift of prophecy, in a swoon, foretelling for the unbelieving chorus, exactly what is happening behind that door and foreseeing her own death. It’s dark ancient drama which could translate well interactively… but I would think that (and no one will believe me, either.)

I leave you with this, my favorite bit of Anne Carson’s prescient comment on the use of Tragedy in preface to Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides.


GriefLessons