Barker’s play is extraordinary, especially given that it was written over a century ago and revised by him in the late 20’s, the original having been banned from performance. The notions and complex philosophies which underline the narrative are as fresh, vital and important now as then. The need to invest in the future, to educate the young properly. The hopelessness of political cabals. The marginalisation of women. Double-standards in public life. The dirty compromises of party politics. The terror a true rebel with a proper cause can create in the complacent and borne to rule.
This is Oresteia, not The Oresteia, the trilogy of plays (Agamennon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides) which won Aeschylus a prize in 458BC and which is considered the “original family drama” and the launching pad for all modern drama, but the free-wheeling, self-indulgent, filmic, and loose “adaptation” by Robert Icke which is now playing at the Almeida, kicking off Rupert Goold’s Greeks season. There are some wonderful images, some potent exchanges, some brilliant flashes of inspiration – but, overall, it does not hold together dramatically. For a production which lasts three hours and forty minutes, many many minutes are spent biding time.