TAMARA ASTOR is very happy to see a very sad play very well done.

Classics geoffrey harkness greek play jake harders katherine jack Phoebe Haines sensuous noises sophie crawford Tadgh Barwell O'Connor Tamara Astor tragedy water

Cambridge Arts Theatre, 13-16th October, £15-25

Directed by Helen Eastman


I spent most of Agamemnon covered in goose pimples and gawping at the sheer prowess of storytelling… in Ancient Greek!  It was a credit to the production that the surtitles were not necessary to understand the story. They did, however, provide welcome reassurance and poeticism.

The play was performed by a mixture of students and professionals, some of whom are classicists and others emphatically not. However, such was the professionalism of the ensemble that I would bet anyone an AGA cooker, a MEMory stick and an anthology of NONsense rhymes that they could not guess which description belongs to whom (Editor’s Note: The Tab does not endorse compound puns).

Helen Eastman’s direction and Neil Irish’s design worked extremely well together; the stylised nature of the action was complemented by a stark, symbolic set. Every movement was specific and no prop superfluous. Even a sandwich, flopping loudly from the incredulous face of Geoffrey Kirkness’ impeccably-played Watchman, added neatly to the atmosphere.

Efficiency was epitomised in the chorus of old men, who worked beautifully as a unit. They drew the audience in by addressing us as if we are an extension of themselves. The synchronicity of their speech was hypnotic and musical, particularly when they actually broke into eerie song. Alex Silverman’s underscoring enhanced the atmosphere most noticeably when it stopped – a sign of powerful music, I reckon (Editor’s Note: The Tab endorses this assertion).

The musical climax was Cassandra’s lament on the state of humanity. Cassandra is one of the most abused and tragic figures in all of dramatic history, and Phoebe Haines played her with extraordinary tenderness. The suspense-building device of having major characters face upstage as they appeared from the pit was particularly effective in Phoebe’s case. As she flicked her head round, marvellous Medusa-locks flailing, the fear in her eyes was palpable. The goose-pimples multiplied when her stunning, operatic voice bursts forth. The pain and tension of Cassandra’s rail against war was an ideal foil for Herald’s speech.  The equally passionate relief expressed at the end of war was there expressed with relish, water-splashing and sensual moaning by Sophie Crawford.

Aeschylus invented the multi-actor play. Here it is at work.

The production was characterised by great commitment and attention to detail. The symbolic set-pieces – scattering of sand, beheading of flowers and popping of Champagne – were all undertaken with Bacchic abandon. Katherine Jack’s Clytemnestra combined grace with such spirit that she was the most queenly queen I’ve ever seen. Her voice undulated magnificently between the soothing tones of a matriarch to the spitting rage of a deeply wronged mother. I would not like to be on the receiving end of a venomous ‘Kaka!’ from her.

There was quite the frisson between her and the rugged Agamemnon, played with aplomb by Jake Harders. His sonorous voice boomed brilliantly, only to be buffeted back into submission by that of Clytemnestra and vice versa – what a battle! Dubious morals were presented and allegiances tried with the only certainty being the absolute evil of Aegisthus – a deliciously condescending Tadhgh Barwell O’Connor.

I came out of Agamemnon absolutely grinning – perhaps not a tragedy’s original aim – but I found the energy of the whole performance so uplifting and inspiring that I could not help it.