Epistemysics

Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Critique: Oresteia

with 4 comments

Program

Interesting title page.  Although it reminds me of those wheels with the spirals painted on them that hypnotists and evil magicians spin and get you to stare at so you fall under their spell and sign over your life savings to them while clucking like a chicken.  Not that that’s ever happened to me.

BuckAH!

(That’s meant to be a chicken noise.  I’m not sure how to spell it.  I originally thought of ‘bruck’, then ‘bwuck’, then thought that perhaps those were too subtle a choice, and so instead went with ‘buckAH’, though that may also be too subtle when it is said alone – you really need a ‘buck buck’ beforehand…  You see, it’s the ‘buck buck’ that makes the ‘buckAH’ so surprising and unique…)

Anyway.  I’m here to talk about the program, not onomatopoeia.

Next we have the “What’s Going On” page.  Of note:

What's Going On

“There are many ways of reducing greenhouse pollution and your environmental footprint.  In addition to installing solar panels, which attract Government rebates, you can also commit to using less energy and using it more wisely.”

Let me summarise that for you a bit:

“There are many ways of reducing greenhouse pollution and your environmental footprint – you can commit to using less energy and using it more wisely.”

Let me summarise that:

“One way to reduce greenhouse pollution and your environmental footprint is to commit to using less energy and using it more wisely.”

And again:

“You can reduce greenhouse pollution by committing to reduce greenhouse pollution.”

Wow.

In other, completely unrelated news, you can increase donations to charity by committing to increasing donations to charity, and you can also increase the amount of exercise you do by committing to increase the amount of exercise you do.

Yes, I’m being pedantic.  Yes, taking four iterations of summarising to get to the punchline weakens the argument somewhat.  Still – obvious much?

Anyway, there are some good suggestions here for reducing your environmental footprint, one of which is to “shorten your hot water showers to 4 minutes or less”.

The Sydney Theatre Company has a blog called Greening The Wharf, where they post news about all the great stuff they’re doing for the environment.  Of interest, for example, is this post in which one of the Residents, Julia Ohannessian, commits to changing her environmentally destructive ways.  For instance: “Next was my biggest challenge, SHORTER SHOWERS! My showers usually last about half an hour to forty minutes…Luckily I had my trusty shower timer handy and was able to apply the four minute shower as soon as possible.”

Excuse me, my phone’s ringing…

Sorry about that.  It was just Warragamba Dam wondering where all their water had gone.  Anyway, back to the review.

FORTY MINUTES?!?!

What the hell where you doing – conducting a symphony while waiting for the conditioner to do its magic?

Ms. Ohannessian must be congratulated, however, for committing to reduce said shower time tenfold.

That post was on the 31st April.  Her next post was on the 1st June.  Then 2nd June.  Then – complete radio silence.  Nothing.  Not a word.  Not even a raindrop of a hint of another post.  And now it’s been more than 3 months.  So my question is this: has Ms. Ohannessian completely ‘greened her life’, and hence no longer needs to post?  Or has she perhaps shrivelled to the size of a pea, the shorter showers no longer hydrating her body with enough water to survive?  Or, it may even be possible that her 4-minute timer (of the hourglass variety – see the blog) has been ruined, the steam in the bathroom seeping in and clogging up the hole the sand falls through such that the timer can never end, thus trapping her in the shower forevermore.

It remains a mystery.

Moving on.  The cast list:

Oresteia - Cast List

It is a goodly cast list.  Nothing much to be said about it.  On the right, however, we have a picture of Julia Ohannessian – one wonders whether it was taken moments after she was told how short her showers would have to be…

Next are the biographies.  In my review for Measure for Measure I expressed my disappointment that there was no biography of Shakespeare in the program, though I did not take any marks off for it because I was feeling generous.  Guess what?  Not feeling so generous any more!  There’s no biography of Aeschylus in the program.  You get 0.  Shame.

Yet let this not sully the jovial mood that comes from the presentation of the Longest Column Award, which this time goes to…Damien Cooper, the lighting designer!  Congratulations Damien, you win an energy efficient lightbulb that will last half the time that it is promised to on the box!

Lucky!

After this is the Director’s Note:

Oresteia - Director's Note

It’s two pages.  Better than usual.  Moving on.

Next is a synopsis of the play, then a family tree of the characters, then an article entitled “Freud and the Greeks”.  It’s about Freud.  And the Greeks.  Not particularly interesting.  Then there’s “From the mother-goddesses to the father-gods”, which takes all of 150 words to note that the original Oresteia was “a literary work that staged the passage from maternal rights to paternal rights”.  Yawn.  Next is “Apollo and Cassandra”:

Oresteia - Apollo and Cassandra

It’s about Apollo and Cassandra.  Quel surprise! It’s boring.  Mon dieu! Moving on.  C’est magnifique!

Last, and probably least, is “The Dog Star Days”:

Oresteia - The Dog Star Days

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Huh?  What?  Sorry, it seems I feel asleep and my head hit the keyboard.  How long was I out for?  Can someone give me a tissue so I can mop up the drool on the ‘space’ key?

Right.  I think that’s about it.

What this program is can be best described with just one word: trivial.  Most of the articles in it are trivial.  Imagine that you were reading an essay in the newspaper – the Spectrum, say – it’s 2,000-3,000 words long (or however long they are).  It’s interesting.  It’s engaging.  It has depth.  Then, imagine if you would, that on the two page spread that this essay is on, there’s also a box in the corner that has 100-200 words on a topic that relates to the main essay.  A little bit of extra trivia for the reader.

This program is filled with trivia boxes and nothing else.  So what should we learn from this?

Think outside the box.

Please.

And if you must think inside the box, then try to make it more interesting.

So.  Score time.  ZERO for the biographies, because Aeschylus wasn’t included.  1 for the pictures.  1 for the Director’s Note.  0.5 for the synopsis and family tree.  0.5 for “Freud and the Greeks”.  0.5 for “From the mother-goddesses to the father-gods”.  0.5 for “Apollo and Cassandra”.  0.5 for “The Dog Star Days”.

The score?  4.5/10

Play

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I should mention that I’m writing this review more than two months (almost three) after I saw Oresteia.  So my memory may be a bit fuzzy.  Not that it matters, what with it having finished its run and all, but nevertheless I thought I would mention it.  Editor out.)

First, the story:

Oresteia - Program - Synopsis

Then, some statements:

Symmetry is a powerful and dangerous force.

Symmetry is part of human nature.

But enough pronouncements.  You see, I have a piece of paper next to me upon which notes have been scribbled (after the performance, mind you), words to help jog my memory into a fast trot when the time came to write a review.  Curiously enough, my memory is cantering along quite nicely after looking over the aforementioned notes.  At the risk of ruining the majority of the punchlines in this review, here they are:

Oresteia - Notes of a Critic

I’m not quite sure what it says about me that I wrote down these particular things as notes – a psychiatrist would probably have a field day, and then a good long shower, a wonderful night at the symphony and a period of very restful sleep out of it.  Anyway.  As you can see, not much to work from – although my handwriting needs some work.  But one does the best with what one has.  And so we begin.

I like looking at attractive people.  Here’s one:

An attractive person

Here’s another:

Another attractive person

Mmm.  Attractive people.  They’re so…what’s the word…

Attractive.

But why are they attractive?  Let’s go through the reasons.  First, enumeration, then, pontification.

The first subject, hereby known as Miss Attractive, comes from California.  Her hobbies include gardening, scrap-booking, and staring at herself in the mirror for long periods of time.  If she had one wish it would be to have world peace.  If she had a second wish, it would be to get a fork big enough to eat these planet-sized peas.

(See what I did there?  Oh shut up.  It made me happy.)

I asked myself what it was that I found attractive about Miss Attractive.  Her breasts were the first thing that I noticed.  Look at them.  Fun-bags full of fun.  Titillating tits.  Mammary glands chock-a-block with milk (or at the very least the possibility of milk).  Indeed, if she were my girlfriend/wife/concubine/kidnapee/dead-wife-revived-as-a-cyborg, I could be relatively certain that if we were to have children, then she would be amply equipped to deal with their feeding.  (Well, perhaps the cyborg might have trouble, but this is not important.)

The next thing I noticed was her groinal region.  Yes, groinal is a word.  Yes, I just made it up.  But, neologic terminology aside, it is intriguing nonetheless.  Though I cannot see it in this photo, I’m sure that her back-groinal region (technically known as the buttocks or torso-cushions), would be a shapely lot, indicating aptitude for child-bearing.  And as we can see from the photo, her front-groinal area seems to be free from defect – her legs are not excessively large or out of proportion, allowing relatively free access to the mid-groinal region (technically known as the vagina).  This is, of course, ‘access’ in the physiological sense – permissive access may be harder to obtain, and has very little to do with the circumference of thigh.  But yes – the easier the access, the easier the copulation, the easier the procreation, the easier the mortgage renumeration.

Her skin is very smooth as well, and free of blemishes, suggesting a general state of rather good health.  Her hair demonstrates her health as well – it is long and full, as if Rapunzel had had an endless supply of Pantene.  Her face also contains many features – her eyes are white, her lips are full, her skin is wrinkle-free – indeed, her countenance accounts for her youth remarkably – and those women that are youthful are more likely to bear good children that are free from defect – her ovaries full of fresh eggs and promise.

Mr Attractive, on the other hand, does not have ovaries.

I know this because I contacted his modelling agent and asked to see an ultrasound.  Never let it be said that I don’t fact-check my articles!

Electra (Sophie Ross) and Orestes (Brett Stiller)

Mr Attractive comes from London.  His hobbies include car mechanics, cooking, and smouldering looks at cameras.  If he had one wish it would be to find the girl of his dreams that loves him for who he is and not just for his looks.  If he had a second wish it would be to not have to answer stupid questions about his love life.

I asked myself what it was that I found attractive about our second specimen.  His face, for one, is free of blemish and full of white eyes and big lips and whatnot – this is common to both women and men.  The first exclusively male thing that I noticed, however, was his chest.  It is a strong chest.  His pectoral muscles are large and defined, as are his shoulders and his arms.  Indeed, he is just the type of man who I could cuddle up to and watch a movie with on a Friday night.  But more than that, he’s the type of man who has the physical strength to protect me from danger – a wild animal, a fallen tree, Joanna Murray-Smith – he is protector and hunter.  He makes me feel all safe and gooey and warm inside.

Excuse me while I fan my face – I’m all a fluster.

Moving to his groinal area, his buttocks, when combined with his abdominal muscles, suggest that he has a special talent for thrusting.

Did I mention that for the purposes of this exercise I am a woman?  It might get awkward otherwise.

Underneath his jeans should lie two testicles and a penis.  (The ultrasound didn’t go down that far.)  His testicles should be full of sperm and his penis capable of being engorged with blood, and this, combined with his thrusting talent, makes me believe that he is an attractive prospect for a father of my children.  Indeed, I would be wise to let him inseminate me.

On a slight tangent – the other day I read Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (the essay, not the book).  At the end she says: ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art’.

I get the feeling that I’ve slightly misunderstood what she meant by that.  (Not that I’m entirely convinced by her essay, but that’s for another time.)

Anyway, there is a point to all of this, and as soon as I remember what it was I’ll be sure to tell you.

Chorus (Sophie Ross) and Clytemnestra (Zindzi Okenyo)

Right.  Got it.

You see, there’s more to attractiveness than just the qualities I have mentioned – yes, thrusting ability is important, yes, lack of blemishes are a good sign, yes, a copy of a recent ultrasound isn’t what you should be asking for on a first date – but perhaps what matters more than all of these things is symmetry.  For as a wise man once said – symmetry is part of human nature.  He also went on, I believe, to say that symmetry is a powerful and dangerous force.

Look at Miss Attractive.  Her breasts are symmetrical.  If they weren’t then she wouldn’t be Miss Attractive, but Miss Lopsided.  Mr Attractive’s biceps are the same size (or close to) – they are also symmetrical.  If one bicep or arm was much bigger than the other, he would no longer be Mr Attractive, but Mr Excessive Masturbation.  Humans are attracted to symmetrical faces as well – that is, faces that are average.  The more the deviation from symmetry and average-ness (which is virtually just another way of defining symmetry), the less attractive a face will be.

This is an extremely simplified view of things, and there are more factors involved, but it will suffice for my purposes.

Symmetry is important.  Symmetry is, in many case, to be preferred.  Indeed, symmetry is often sought after.

And so we find our way back to Oresteia.  On the back wall of the stage are three elevators.  This, combined with the distressed black of the walls and floor, creates the impression of a darkened, cavernous foyer of a high-rise office building at night, the lights turned off but the moon’s coldness streaming through the windows and providing a trickle of illumination that pools on the lighter shades of the elevator doors.  It’s the type of set where the longer you stare the bigger it seems to get.  The type of set that is spacious in a way that lets imaginary images swirl around the actors without knocking into any furniture.  Like so:

Oresteia set

I ain’t got the pictures I want to illustrate the points I’m trying to make, so I’m making these doodles instead.  You should know that I’m drawing these on a laptop with a touch pad.  So you can quit judging me right about…now.  Splendid.

So what do we notice about these elevators?  Well, there’s three of them.  They’re evenly spaced.  They’re all the same (give or take drawing errors, of course).  Indeed, they’re symmetrical.  Wonderful.  Excellent.  Magnifique! We like symmetry, remember?  Symmetry is good.  Symmetry is the physical manifestation of Order.  Symmetry is attractive.

The set, you see, has primed us, the audience, to feel that what is to come will be ordered.  That it will follow some well thought out plan of the director.  That it will perhaps follow the plan of the gods.  It’s a very fatalistic set.  And, considering that Oresteia is a Greek tragedy – fatalism is quite the good thing.

It’s a simple set as well – as the play is to be in verse (or very poetical, at least), a bare set makes for good focus on the text.  There’s very little to distract the audience.  Apart from, you know, the old guy next to me who felt the need to cough profusely, then the need to find a lolly to help ease the coughing, which involved searching through a pocket in which was also a set of car keys or coins that jingled and jangled and irritated, meanwhile him coughing and spluttering and his wife looking on concerned and me getting more impatient and starting to seriously consider handing him my water bottle to shut him up even though I have a thing about letting other people drink out of my water bottle because you know there are germs and stuff out there and I wouldn’t want to be catching a sore throat or anything from anyone especially someone that old because you never know when science will discover that aging isn’t actually compulsory for humans but is rather a disease that the old pass on to us and maybe it would be wise for the new parliament to start thinking about implementing some quarantine laws for people over the age of 80 and…moving on.

But this foyer is not what it seems (and I didn’t think it was actually a foyer, but it’s a good way to describe it).  There’s a person standing in the middle of the set at the start of the play, bathed in a soft light that seems almost blue when it touches the ground, dressed in a yellow jacket and hat, suggesting someone attuned to the sea and its way:

Oresteia - Person

The person is part of the chorus.  She talks for some time about events preceding the action.  If I could remember what the events were I’d tell you.  Obviously I can’t.  She stands alone, symmetrical (one is always symmetrical, after all).  After a while she is joined by two other chorus members – why they were not there at the start is beyond me – perhaps they were having a lunch break?  But join her they do:

Oresteia - Persons

One moves to the left and the other moves to the right, so they are equidistant from each other.  They are like the elevators.  Once again, symmetry is maintained.  More talking and declaiming ensues, then, tragedy strikes.  A chorus member wavers from her position:

Oresteia - Persons

Suddenly we have asymmetry.  The world has been thrown into chaos.

The above 1-2 position is ugly.  It wouldn’t be ugly in all plays – the majority of plays, especially those that are much more realistic than Oresteia, would not be perturbed by it in the slightest, but in Oresteia, with its highly stylised and symbolic set, its structured language (verse), its fatalistic themes and plots, its overwhelming symmetry to begin with…well, asymmetry is not to be desired.  But even in such circumstances, asymmetry can be a valuable tool to use when deciding where actors should stand – two people on one side and one person on the other can suggest, for example, greater power for the side with two.  But these are chorus members – there is no ‘power’ to be thrown around.  They are all equal.  But currently asymmetric.

But even this isn’t that much of a problem.  Indeed, the above position is merely an intermediate state between the initial, symmetrical position, and this:

Oresteia - Persons

Symmetry restored.  The person on the right moved to the middle, then the person on the left followed suit.  What is my problem with this?  Surely I should be happy – symmetry rules once again!  But alas, alack, and aardvark, the process to right this symmetrical ship was a long and boring one.

Pop quiz time – who here, reading this, thinks that, after the right-hand chorus member has moved in to the middle, that the left-hand chorus member will do the same afterwards?  Does anyone not think that that would happen?

You see, I fully expected the chorus member on the left to move into the middle.  But she took five or so minutes to get there.  Five or so minutes of verse declaiming – which was fine when everything was symmetrical, but now I, with the knowledge that she would make her way into the middle at some point, found that it became tedious.  It can be summarised as follows: we know, once the chorus member on the right has made her move, that the left is sure to follow – therefore we feel that the chorus member on the left should, as it were, ‘get on with it’.  We expect it to happen, for the symmetry to be returned, and when it doesn’t we become anxious that it hasn’t happened yet, and we wonder when it will happen, and while we are wondering this we are also becoming annoyed at the words being spoken.

At least I was.

Of course, I’m overstating this problem by a magnitude of about a thousand, and it is only a very specific issue, but it was a problem nonetheless.

Really, the utter insignificance of this problem when compared to the play overall is astounding, but I noticed it anyway.

So.  Solution time.  What should have been done instead?  If you’re going to move the two outer chorus members to the middle, then either do it at the same time, or do it without much time elapsed between each movement.  Subconsciously or otherwise, we crave the symmetry, and become restless when we don’t get it.  What I would have done, however, involves what is to happen next.

Next Clytemnestra enters.  First, the left hand elevator doors open suddenly, revealing a childhood toy of Clytemnestra’s dead daughter – a pink bicycle, the wheels still spinning.  Then, the middle opens to reveal another toy – a music box playing a tune.  (I could very well have misremembered the actual items, but they were toys.)  Then the right hand elevator opens to reveal the woman herself.  The chorus is surprised by this.  The audience is too, but only slightly – we knew the elevators had to open at some point, and now seems as good a time as any to open them.

Clytemnestra (Zindzi Okenyo)

But what if the elevators had started when the chorus was in the 1-2 position?  We as an audience would be expecting the chorus to come together in the middle – if they were to be cut off before that happened, surely this would come as more of a surprise, be more unexpected, than what actually occurred?  In the first situation (what happened), the chorus were allowed to finish their speeches, their momentum, allowed to come to an almost complete stop.  Instead, in the second version, the momentum isn’t finished – there’s still a lot of inertia, and the inertia is continued through Clytemnestra’s entrance.  What is the rule in playwrighting about starting a scene as late and finishing it as early as possible?

I mean, you used the Duck-Duck-Goose theory of stagecraft for the elevators – Toy-Toy-Clytemnestra – why not do it for the position of the actors as well?  The initial symmetrical position, then the 1-2 position, then, after the pattern has been established, introduce the ‘goose’, and instead of making everything symmetrical once more, start the elevator doors opening.

Perhaps.

At least that’s what this critic thinks.  So this is, you know, just some advice from a young critic to the Associate Director of the Sydney Theatre Company.  As you do.

Moving on, then.  2,500 words on symmetry is more than enough.  What’s next on my list of topics…

The soldier.

After Clytemnestra has done her thing, and the chorus chatters for a bit, a soldier enters.  Here he is:

A Soldier (Cameron Goodall) Backstage

Excuse me while I clear my throat…  Ahem…  AHEM…

Sing it with me now.

The phaaaaantom of the opera is thereeeeee, inside your miiiiind!

Right.  Moving on to more sensible things.

The soldier’s speech to the chorus, telling of the trials the army had to go through while they battled their enemy, the horrid conditions in the bowels of their ship on the way back home (and never has ‘bowel’ been a more fitting term for that part of the ship, if you get my drift (or my driftwood, even)) – this was one of the best speeches in the play.  I haven’t got much more to say about that, other than ‘well done’ and giving you a virtual pat on the back.

Next topic.

Product placement.

Long Day's Journey Into Night Advertisement

Cassandra comes out on to stage at one point in the first half bruised, battered, and wrapped in a red blanket.

Red Blanket

She has gone through quite a bit it would seem.  Agamemnon, she explains, has sent her home.

Like a Fishbone Advertisement

And just what method of transport has he used?  Well, according to the symbol in the bottom corner of the red blanket, it would be QANTAS.

QANTAS.

Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.

August: Osage County Advertisement

There are two things wrong with this – first, QANTAS is an associate sponsor of the Sydney Theatre Company, so the fact that an actor is using a red blanket with a QANTAS symbol on it is, to say the least, concerning.

QANTAS Associate Sponsorship Acknowledgement

Second, what kind of an anachronism is this?  I understand that all the actors were dressed in modern garb – that I can handle – but to have one character fly back home, after the entire army has just gone through hell in the bowels of a quote, ‘wooden ship’ - I can understand that an army wouldn’t be flown to and from a war zone, but the fact that the world has aeroplanes, and yet the army, which is supposed to be the strongest in the world, is still using wooden ships?  What must the aeroplanes be made out of – paper?  No wonder QANTAS’ safety record has been damaged of late.

Well.

Vacheron Constantin Advertisement

I mean, really.

The Sebel Pier One Advertisement

Product placement?

pjm Fleet Advertisement

In the theatre?

Emirates Advertisement

Really?

Audi Advertisement

Hmph!

Sponsors

Harrumph!

I’m not particularly angry.  More…disappointed.  Product placement annoys me.  I don’t mind if it’s ‘tasteful’ (as oxymoronic as that sounds), but when it’s as blatant as that – when, in a movie, there is a one second freeze on a certain product for no other reason than to show the product, for example – well…

Donation Plea

Let’s stop talking about this.  It’s too depressing and annoying, as you no doubt will have realised by now.  (And I should add a DISCLAIMER here by noting that by suggesting there may have been ‘product placement’ I am not suggesting that there is some big conspiracy where QANTAS said “we’ll sponsor you if you advertise us” and then the plane and the blanket were written into the play – rather I am merely pointing out the very interesting coincidence.  Please don’t sue me.  I make no money as it is – I’m a poor, unpaid critic/playwright, supporting a family of twenty three on the income I get from my writing (which is zero).  Have pity!)

Anyway.

Weirdly enough, I now have this strange urge to donate money to the STC all of a sudden…

No!  I must fight it.  I must not let myself be seduced…

But if I support them then I will ensure that the STC has the capacity to continue presenting a diverse range of high quality theatre into the future…  No!  I mustn’t give in!  Resist, Adam, resist!

But it will have a positive impact…  And I like to have a positive impact…  And the Foundation Coordinator Tina Ferguson sounds like such a nice person and…no!  Stop it!

I’ve got to get away.  I’ve got to get out of here.  I’ve got to flee the country.  Quick, to the airport!  I’m sure QANTAS will have a flight, then I can perhaps buy myself a lovely Vacherin Constantin watch…though how will I get to the airport?  Perhaps I could lease myself a car from pjmFleet, or buy one from Audi…but of course I need to eat as well – I could stop at the restaurant at The Sebel Pier One and have something to digest, and then I could spend the eating time debating whether or not to fly QANTAS or Emirates…

No!  Will this advertising cacophony never end!?  My ears, they bleed to the sound of this marketing discord!

Oh!  Oh…  (That’s supposed to be the sound I make when I slump dramatically to the floor.)

Oh!

(This is the part where I slump dramatically to the floor.)

Uhh.

(That’s the sound I make as my dramatic slump to the floor comes to a dramatic, sudden, and altogether slumpish end.)

Moving…  Moving…  Moving on.  Next… next topic…  Where’s my tear-stained piece of paper with notes on it?  What blurry ideas are there left for me to discuss?

Aegisthus (Richard Pyros) and Clytemnestra (Zindzi Okenyo)

The squeegee!  Oh my god, the squeegee!

The more perceptive readers may have picked up on the fact that there was a squeegee in the production.  Though it wasn’t meant to be.  You see, many a murder took place in the elevators when the doors were shut – imagine some horror movie where a person is brutally stabbed in the shower and all you see are their hands slipping down the foggy glass partition, leaving a trail of red behind, and you get the idea.  These parts were quite effective.  They came as a shock, they sent the adrenalin rushing through the body – even though you couldn’t see what was happening, the sounds that the actors were making were all you needed to visualise it.  Top stuff and all that.

But the problem then remains – how does one get the blood off the elevator doors?  Especially when it has to be clean for the second act?  Apparently the answer was to clean the doors while the play was in progress, using a squeegee.

Of course, you didn’t see the stage manager or whoever it was actually cleaning it (yes, I obviously know lots about how a play is run) – but you could see the blood disappearing off the elevator doors, and occasionally the black rubber of a squeegee as it made its homeless-at-intersection-on-a-windscreen arcs across the doors.

It was very distracting.

Now I’m not sure if this happened at all the performances, but it definitely happened at mine, and right before the interval – the final scene before the interval, to be precise.  My question is this – why couldn’t Mr. or Mrs. Squeegee have waited until the interval to do their thing?  Why do it in the middle of an important scene?

Anyway.

Voldemort/Apollo (Cameron Goodall), Agamemnon (Tahki Saul), and Orestes (Brett Stiller)

Next topic.

Second act.  Agamemnon’s dead.  The left-hand elevator has been turned into a grave.  There’s sand near it but not in front of it.  Electra, his daughter, spends two or three minutes transferring the sand from one pile to another.  With her hands.  One scoop at a time.  With time to walk between the piles every time.

By thirty seconds into it I was ready to shout – “you need a shovel, love?”

Not that I did.  That would be improper.  Impolite.  Rude, even.

Plus I’d already stabbed the old cougher next to me in the neck – I didn’t want to push my luck.

But yes – there’s a real problem in Sydney theatre at the moment that I’ve noticed – luxurious pauses.  Far too many plays have moments which could be radically shortened and still achieve the desired effect.  I’d give you more examples but I can’t remember any.  Needless to say, it’s a ratio of about 1 in 2 plays that has my eyes rolling at some point due to the director taking liberties with time and keeping a moment going for longer than it needs to.

Oh.  In The Power of Yes at Belvoir, near the end – where the narrator is being served his meal…a waiter sets up his table and takes about two minutes to do it.  Really?

Orestes 2.0 at Griffin Theatre was full of them.

And I’m not spending any time thinking of any more.  There were probably more in plays that I liked, but my good memory of the play has erased them, I’m guessing.

Maybe it’s just me and my short attention span (though I like to think that it extends as much as it needs to, provided that what I’m watching is worthy of my attention).  I mean, the shaving scene in Measure for Measure, which went for about two minutes, was completely unnecessary but ended up being one of the best moments of the play – so luxurious pauses are not always undesirable.

This one was.

Next topic.

Excess milk.

Orestes (Brett Stiller), Aegisthus (Richard Pyros), Electra (Sophie Ross), and Clytemnestra (Zindzi Okenyo)

At one point in the play all the characters brought a bottle of milk on stage and placed it at their feet.  Apparently Oresteia has a lot of milk imagery in it, and I suppose this was a physical manifestation of that.  I think.  I had no idea why the milk was there.  Yes, it looked somewhat beautiful, but if there was some symbolic point to be made (apart from the connection to the imagery that is said to be in the text), then I didn’t get it.

Perhaps there was a calcium deficiency in the cast?

Needless to say that when Orestes smashed a bottle of milk into a wall near Clytemnestra to demonstrate his rage, the moment was both spectacular and confusing.  Yes, he’s angry – but why was he doing it with milk?  Who knows.  I’m sure someone can enlighten me.

Next topic.  Last topic, I think.

Near the end of the play, I think it’s Electra who is declaiming a rather dramatic speech about how sad she feels, how her heart is heavy, how she can barely breathe because of the grief, and so on.  Then, after all this, she cries that there are “fingers of despair wrapped around my epiglottis”.

Now, Tom Wright, director and writer of this play, has done a great job with the poetry – very evocative, very beautiful, etc, etc.  But ‘epiglottis’?  Really?

I’ve written a poem to demonstrate my point.  I had planned to write this poem for a competition to win tickets to the opening night of The Trial (where people who followed the Oresteia Blog were invited to submit responses to the play), but never got around to doing it.  (Not only did you win tickets but a signed program – you can imagine my enthusiasm!)  So, three months late, but finished nevertheless, I present to you, The Anatomy of Oresteia:

The Anatomy of Oresteia

Oh woe!  Oh woe!  Air I cannot blow,
These fingers of despair wrapped around my epiglottis,
The sad lemur on my femur,
The tumours on my humours,
The pain in my brain,
These filthy phalanges that envelop my left ventricle,
Squeezing the haemoglobin ’round my circulatories,
These metacarpals that do wrench my soul from my chest,
The path of its heavenly fall from grace trailing through my superior thoracic aperture while leaving the left clavicle undisturbed (though not before puncturing slightly my oesophagus).

But alas!  Alas!  My sternum collapses under the weight of my depression,
A greenstick fracture that results in red,
My crimsoned capillaries and their auxiliaries rushed to the light to fight,
But what is this?  My legs they do fail me!
The lemur on my femur does ally itself with the cow on my…calf,
The great longitudinal fissure of my grey matter does like a herd of pachyderms cause chaos,
Until the cruciates conspire against me.

The excruciating ligaments, how they mock my form,
First one fails, then another, all falling like fleshy dominoes -
The anterior cruciate ligament (that stretches from the lateral condyle of femur to the anterior intercondylar area) is the second man left standing,
The posterior cruciate ligament (which stretches from the medial condyle of femur to the posterior intercondylar area) surrenders and leaves me kneeling,
Reeling,
Feeling,
Squealing,
And with no chance of healing.

Oh woe!  Oh woe!  The dichotomy of my lithotomy,
The release of the bladder makes a streaming golden ladder,
My bowels they do foul,
Could someone get me a towel?

But alack, alack!  My trachea under attack,
The expiration of my respiration -
Au revoir, alveoli, au revoir!
Your distant distals, your pulmonary surfactant no longer satisfactory,
I gasp with no air to grasp,
No more noradrenaline to act on beta receptors and cause bronchodilation,
No more acetylcholine, your involvement with the M-1 muscarinic receptors redundant, the resting tone of my bronchiolar smooth muscle a problem no longer yours,
No more, no more!
For I see no air but volcanic dust that comes to sing me to hell,
The sinister silica seeping into me and…

Oh!  Oh!
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis!
My vertebrae crumble – the cervical, the thoracic, the lumbar, the sacral, the coccygeal – and I am lying in wait,
My death draws near like two maxillary central incisors under the influence of braces,
And I am left lingering, the last slideshow through my corpus callosum flickers on,
For ’twas the tumours on my humours, the sad lemur on my femur,
And the bony caged despairing metropolis,
Of the fingers wrapped ’round my epiglottis…

I think I’ve made my point.  If you’re going to use anatomy in your poetry, it’s best to stick to body parts under three syllables.  And if you must use a big word, then don’t only use it once like you did with ‘epiglottis’ – it sticks out like a painful pollical (sore thumb).

At this point I’d like to take a moment to thank the publishers and author of my copy of Gray’s Anatomy, which was very helpful during the writing of the above poem.  Moment taken.

It reminds me of Poor Boy, a musical on at the STC last year, in which the characters spoke normally to each other for most of the play, but once or twice they broke into virtual poetry – it was completely out of place.

Basically, consistency is the key here.

Of course I realise that there are many exceptions to this rule, and I’m not going to go into them here.  Needless to say, Oresteia was not an exception.

And I think that’s it.  Finished!

The Cast

Overall, quite the good play (and not as bad as I’ve made it sound with my overwhelming negativity in this review, which has basically been a lot of nitpicking rather than pointing out any major structural flaws).  Actors were good.  Sound was great (especially the human orchestra – it reminds me of the scene in Bright Star (a biopic about John Keats and his relationship with Fanny What’s-her-name-sounds-like-a-toothbrush-but-can’t-remember-how-to-spell-it (and I hope Keats’ first name is John as well, though I’m not about to check it)).  Keats was in a human orchestra (a choir, basically, except everybody was their on instrument).  It was adapted from a Mozart piece for wind.  I’m not a music critic (though I’ve often thought of giving it a go, what with music underpinning drama and all).  Indeed, there’s a very musical explanation as to why ‘epiglottis’ was a bad word to use, but it’s a bit complicated to go into here.  Anyway, here’s the damn clip:

There weren’t any solos in Oresteia, though, from memory.

I’m getting goosebumps just listening to it now.  I got goosebumps at the end of Oresteia too, when the choir faded out into the ending.  Good stuff.

Spiffing.

Marvellous.

Overall – flawed, but still very compelling.

So.  What are your thoughts?

8/10.  Oresteia by Aeschylus, in a new adaptation by Tom Wright at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company.  Opened 5th June 2010, finished sometime after that.  Directed by Tom Wright.  With Ursula Mills, Alice Ansara, Sophie Ross, Zindzi Okenyo, Cameron Goodall, Tahki Saul, Julia Ohannessian, Richard Pyros, and Brett Stiller.  Designed by Alice Babidge.  Lighting by Damien Cooper.  Sound by Max Lyandvert.  Photos by Brett Boardman

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Written by epistemysics

September 20, 2010 at 4:45 am

Posted in Theatre Reviews

4 Responses

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  1. No distracting squeegee or old man coughing for me, but i did have actors resetting the stage and a lady breathing really loudly which gave much the same result.

    Sophie Bruhn

    September 20, 2010 at 5:30 am

  2. One wonders if there could be a ‘loud-breathers’ section – a bit like the tweetseats that were being suggested a while back… What would happen is you’d get a breathalyser type test (except it would gauge the decibels of your breathing volume) and then you’d be split up once you entered the auditorium into two groups.

    Yeah. That’s never going to happen. Plus the negative air pressure from one side of the room might create some disturbing wind effects…

    epistemysics

    September 20, 2010 at 5:44 am

  3. It made me have an interesting moral debate with myself- is it going a little bit too far to tell someone to breathe more quietly? My friend on the other side of me could hear her too, so it was really loud.
    But then, like about half of the auditorium, she left after interval and I could focus.
    You sydney people are not very open minded, are you?

    Sophie Bruhn

    September 20, 2010 at 5:51 am

  4. HALF the auditorium? Wow. At least 95% of the audience stayed after the interval at the performance I saw – you must’ve had a very…well, interesting…audience.

    As for the morality of breathing, look forward to my new essay in Platform Paper No. 37 – “To Breathe or to Leave? The Desperation Caused By Respiration”

    epistemysics

    September 20, 2010 at 6:14 am


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