ORESTEIA based on Aeschylus
DE ROOVERS, BELGIUM
The Belgian theatre company de Roovers participates for the first time in the Festival, presenting the production Oresteia, based on Aeschylus. The trilogy Oresteia, the last and greatest work by Aeschylus, has been characterized as “the greatest achievement of human thought”. Three murders, three culprits; their demons, their fate and their moral dilemmas constitute the vicious circle of revenge that is interrupted by the new order of things. The principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is replaced by a different form of justice, the court. The de Roovers group based their performance on the trilogy by Aeschylus, translated into English by the outstanding poet Ted Hughes and into Dutch by Berard Dewulf. The original text is preserved, punctuated with excerpts from contemporary writers.
▪ With Greek and English surtitles
The Oresteia is the only integrally preserved trilogy in the oeuvre of the great ancient Greek tragedy writers. It is also the last and greatest work by Aeschylus – great in many senses. The Oresteia deals with three murders, three culprits; their demons, their fate, and their morally laden choices. The vicious circle of the vendetta is broken. The principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is replaced by a different form of justice, in which the court of justice is the keeper of order. Starting from the idea that was later concisely summarized as “know thyself”, man is challenged to discard the blinders of self-righteousness, and to see and acknowledge his own dark sides as a condition to ensure the dynamics of life.
King Agamemnon returns home from the Trojan War, a victor. Upon his return, he is murdered in his bathtub by his wife Clytemnestra. She has been bent on revenge for years because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier – it was only through that sacrifice that the Greek army got wind in their sails, while they were heading for Troy. But Agamemnon got his head stuck in the noose of fate.
In the second tragedy of the trilogy, Libation Bearers, Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, returns to Argos to avenge his father’s murder – this is his duty – but he can only do so by killing his mother. Orestes also embraces his fate and offends the most sacred commands of the Gods. The deities of vengeance appear on the scene to hound Orestes. He seeks protection with Apollo.
In the Eumenides (The Kindly Ones), Orestes takes refuge to the temple of Apollo, who orders him to seek protection from goddess Athena, as a supplicant. Athena founds the first court of justice, presided by her. The question is: should Orestes pay for the death of his mother with his own life or should he be acquitted so that the circle of vengeance maybe broken? What follows is the first court drama in western literature. The constitutional state – or an early version thereof – is born.
The de Roovers group based their performance on the trilogy by Aeschylus, translated into English by the outstanding poet Ted Hughes and into Dutch by Berard Dewulf. The original text is preserved, punctuated with excerpts from contemporary writers.
The work on the Oresteia is spread across several seasons. A first rehearsal phase in the spring of 2010 resulted in a try-out in our own rehearsal studio, in April 2010. In May 2011, we performed the completed Oresteia on location in the former abattoir in Antwerpen-Noord.
The Oresteia is a large-scale project, in many ways. We took the time for a thorough analysis and composed consideration. We made some fundamental choices and so it came to be an unconventional version, in which the outlines of the original – Aeschylus, in Ted Hughes’ adaptation and translated by Berard Dewulf – were preserved, but were complemented with material of other writers: Jonathan Littell (The Kindly Ones), Rose Gronon (King of Rams), Hugo Claus (nameless poem), Albert Camus (L’Homme Révolté), a few sentences from Agamemnon by Steven Berkoff, some inspiration from Peter Sichrovsky (Born Guilty. Children of Nazi families). The relevance of the text was in this way reinforced, Aeschylus’ questions were accentuated. When is violence justified? Who is responsible for the violence? When is war really over? What is justified in times of war? For how long does a trauma keep festering within a family and how many generations must be confronted with this?
For a relatively small company such as de Roovers, this was a genuine tour de force practically as well. We collaborated with the conductor/composer Peter Spaepen and a nine-piece choir. And we performed on a troublesome and compelling location.
Spaepen composed tranquil and emotionally charged choir parts in a soundscape by Eric Engels. The ancient Greek choir was subdivided into: a speaker who, as a reporter describes and comments on the events and a choir that observes the tragic events from a distance and expresses dormant sentiments without judgment.
The abattoir was an exceptionally inspirational place. The monumental space remained as good as empty: one concrete block upfront, three projectors that projected pictures on live performances taken by Stef Stessel on the back wall. Small and vulnerable actors and singers in a space, which accurately translated the underlying world view. In 2012, we resumed Oresteia in the abattoir. Last season we played on locations in Turnhout and Genk.
Theatre company profile
De Roovers is a theatre company that was founded in 1994 by graduates of the Conservatorium of Antwerp. At school, they presented pieces made with Lucas Vandervorst, Sam Bogaerts, Jan- Joris Lamers, Ivo Van Hove, Peter Van den Eede, Dora Van Der Groen and others. The company has a fixed core: Robby Cleiren, Sara De Bosschere, Luc Nuyens and Sofie Sente always work in a collective way, without a director. Each production originates from a profound research and a varying cooperation with different artists. Photographer and designer Stef Stessel joined the team from the very start and is clearly responsible for the typical style of de Roovers.
Starting with challenging textual material – either classical or contemporary – the actors make and perform theatre that, through dramatic literature, scenic architecture and the urge to play, thoroughly examines issues that are socially relevant.