Review: This Restless House Trilogy


Citizens Theatre co-production with NTS
The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 22 April 2016 – 14 May 2016
4 Stars (4 / 5)


Zinnie Harris’ This Restless House is an epic piece of writing made exceptional by director Dominic Hill and co. As a modern adaptation of the Greek tragedy The Oresteia, this cursed household sits between ancient resonances and contemporary dialogue, drawing a link between a family in shreds and a microcosm of the original trilogy. This first half chronicles the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War after victory – at the cost of sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to the gods.

From the beginning, the vagrant chorus (Cliff Burnett, George Costigan, Lorn Macdonald) is energetic and charming in their storytelling; finishing each other’s sentences with fluid cohesion. Well-rehearsed and executed with impeccable timing, it sets the pace for the rest of the play, which the ensemble picks up and then swings into action. Pauline Knowles and George Anton are superb as Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. Both of them succinctly express their struggle as husband and wife, mother and father and the conflict between Iphigenia’s death and their love for each other without ever forgetting their status as the most powerful people in the land. The watchman (Adam Best) and Clytemnestra’s servant Ianthe (Anita Vettesse) provide comic relief in the midst of tragedy with aplomb.

Designers Colin Richmond, Nikola Kodjabashia and Ben Ormerod’s work are vital to the creation of the piece, as the story weaves between spaces and realms, sometimes merging into one. It is engaging to watch the actors become musicians and stagehands, as the plot builds scene after scene. The end of the play leaves the audience filling sympathetic towards all parties. Everyone is justified and wrong at the same time, and the horror displayed onstage is honest and not at all gratuitous.

There is no better way to get a sense of This Restless House except to experience it. Dominic Hill’s direction is filled with intellect and spectacle finely portrayed by a strong ensemble and fantastic creative team.

***

The second half (separate production) builds on from Part 1 but does not fall short as a standalone piece. It follows siblings Electra (Olivia Morgan) and Orestes (Lorn Macdonald), who have to kill their mother Clytemnestra (Pauline Knowles) in order to rid themselves of the family curse.

The work of designers Colin Richmond, Ben Ormerod’s are as important as the characters, as actors scramble to transform the space with a swing, wheelchair and portable window among other things, all done hand-in-hand to the compositions of Nikola Kodjabashia. The music is entrancing, especially with the seductive vocals of Anita Vettesse and the apparent joy in the musicians as they underscore the show. This grunginess, a recurring style of this team in collaboration with director Dominic Hill, suits the grit of the Greek trilogy, conflating ancient history with modern day.

Olivia Morgan plays Electra with naivety and maturity, and the politics between her, Clytemnestra (Pauline Knowles) and stepfather Aegisthus (Keith Fleming) is apparent but not over-the-top. When Electra meets her psychiatrist Audrey (Anita Vettesse), the show stops being about the family and progresses onto modern day issues, such as the struggle of the female psyche and the conflict between science and faith. In the last scene, Iphigenia (Rose Hughes) and all other deceased members return onstage, the presentation of a family in pieces. The gentility and almost sentimental final speech becomes a commentary on society’s sense of injustice and the struggle for honour in the midst of grief.

A special acknowledgement goes to the Deaf Theatre Club BSL translators who worked extremely hard to make the show more accessible to patrons.