Review: Oresteia is terrifyingly terrific at Trafalgar Studios

“Part The Godfather, Part Breaking Bad”, reads the tagline for the modernised production of Aeschylus’ dark tragedy, Oresteia, and I was like a moth to the flame.

On arrival to the theatre, an usher explained to me that the intervals would be timed by a clock on stage and that when the clock hit zero, I was to be seated. I thought nothing of it at the time.

But sitting, awaiting the show to start, it was difficult not to notice a large digital clock positioned above the stage, along with screens dotted around the auditorium. It was telling the current time: 18:50:22. As the seconds ticked by, a man dressed in a black suit but no shoes, emerged on stage and sat with his back to the audience in complete silence. 18:56:37 and the seats around me were filling up. 18:59:59 and as if a wave swept across the audience washing us of our daily doings, the room fell silent.

Oresteia review

Not a sound. That is, except the continuous, high-pitched ticking of the clock. 19:01:04 – nothing. The man on stage with his back to us remained motionless. Members of the audience looked around unsure of how to handle the building tension within the room. 19:02:47 and all within the room were dangerously close to falling off their seat; all but the man on stage.

Three whole minutes passed in this manner, until the stage was over run by people, all of who looked at one another without breaking the deathly lack of noise. All of a sudden, the whole ensemble turned to the audience and stared intensely into each and every one of our eyes. An awkward feeling crept throughout my body and I realised, this was going to be an interesting few hours.

Oresteia review

Although the ominous air within the room became bearable in small intervals, the use of long silences dragged me back to uneasiness. In these moments, you were made fully conscious of time slowly passing; a distraction you’d commonly link to a boring show, but used in the right context, created an incredibly awesome atmosphere.

This, along with themes of prophecies, fate, and inevitability reminded you that everything is all a matter of time. The character in the black suit and no shoes is constantly lurking at the edge of the stage in silence, feeding the characters with the tools to fulfil their destinies. Deaths are marked in real time and as previously mentioned, the intervals were counted down on the digital clock. The show may be a daunting three hours and forty minutes long, but it’s time you won’t regret spending.

Oresteia review

As far as plays go, you may think that an ancient Greek tragedy is past its time, but the way in which this epic tale has been updated is outstanding. This show marks another triumph for the team that adapted George Orwell’s sinister classic, 1984, for the West End stage. Long are the days of large, masked chorus lines in cloaks, droning in unison. The modernisation of costumes, language and staging liberates the story, making it as relevant as the next.

With this being a limited season at Trafalgar Studios, it’s obvious that time is against us. Book your tickets now at and be quick about it. The clock is ticking.