Steam Industry have been putting free theatre into the Scoop (the amphitheatre next to London's bulbous City Hall) for the last nine years, but this attempt on the Oresteia is not a great example of what they can do - hampered unfairly by the wet summer we're having, but nonetheless rather lacklustre.
Before going into detail about the production, a caveat: I didn't see the last part of the trilogy. It was just too wet, too windy, too cold, and I wasn't particularly impressed by Steam Industry's production - I imagine it was called off after the heavens opened, shortly after I left, but couldn't say for sure. One of my fellow reviewers here has already commented on the 'madness' of doing outdoor theatre in London, and with plenty of shows already rained off completely or running at a far reduced capacity, it does draw into question the whole idea of attempting outdoor theatre without multiple contingencies in place. In Steam Industry's defence, I can't blame them for the weather - but without heaters, ponchos, marquees or anything in place in case of adverse weather, I'm sorry to say that I was reduced to leaving early.
Also, as mentioned above, what I saw of Steam Industry's show didn't exactly entice me to stay. I don't understand why they decided to recreate the Oresteia by rewriting the existing material - Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenidies are accepted classics, and (to my mind, certainly) don't need reworking.
Instead, the evening opened with The Trojan Horse, a quirky comedy introducing the Trojan War in a child-friendly, modern adaptation. Full of modern slang, comedy songs and puppetry, this was fun and friendly, but necessarily reductive - for time as well as for some of the more gruesome mythical content. The decision to open so cheerily certainly pulled the biggest crowd, with most of the Scoop full of families and school parties - but sat counter to the much more adult Agamemnon that followed. This seemed to be much closer to the original, with Agamemnon returning from the Trojan War to face his wife Clytemnestra, who had been plotting revenge for his murder of their daughter, Iphigenia, to turn the winds in their favour on the outset of the war.
The main problem here is tonal - Steam Industry are clearly trying to satisfy too many different people with the piece, starting off with something child-friendly before delving into the darker and grittier material, but juxtaposing the two together made for uncomfortable watching. The Trojan Horse was just so silly and pleasant that the following Agamemnon became even grimmer than it already is - and drew the performers to really plumb the depths with the latter after bouncing their way through the former. The audiences for each style are completely different and, I suspect, don't overlap much - very few people stuck around for Agamemnon, and I don't think we can just blame that on the weather.
I'm also not sure why Steam Industry felt the need to make what they were doing quite so silly. Children's entertainment has a long history of juxtaposing the silly with the cruel, going back to the Grimms' fairy tales and further, and by throwing out the dark material in favour of jokes about Argos and owls pooping in people's hair, they may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. There was also no attempt to fit both pieces into an overall narrative - a comedy performed at Agamemnon's court while his wife waited for him to return home, for example, or something else that would have put the silliness into context.
On the other hand, when there was an opportunity to let loose with Agamemnon, the show didn't exactly impress on its own merit. Greek theatre has a heady history of challenging perceptions and beliefs, retaining its relevance right up to today, but this production felt old-fashioned and formulaic. The design vacillated somewhere between today and ancient times, and nothing seemed to resonate - and performances all edged on overwrought, probably for the reasons stated above. The only performer who really had a chance to shine was Ruth Pickett as Cassandra - excellent effects made her prophecies chilling and haunting, and some excellent physicality from this performer allowed it all to feel very natural - a huge talent in the making, and one to watch. While others had moments to shine as well (notably Nicholas Corre as Sinon in The Trojan Horse), most of the actors seemed to flounder in both productions I saw.
Steam Industry have an excellent reputation, and I can only imagine that their previous work in this remarkable space must have been more impressive, because I certainly didn't see any of it. There were hints of brilliance - the two lovely puppets in The Trojan Horse, a huge horse's head and a rather cute owl, were truly impressive - but much of this project seemed to suffer from the outdoor setting and a general lack of defined focus. Maybe, when this dratted weather clears up, they'll find their way better, but even then the production flaws won't make this something I could honestly recommend.