In Greek mythology, the Furies are female subterranean deities of vengeance, also called "infernal goddesses". Ethrael Theatre – who have performed in Durham in the past – bring forth the Furies baying for Orestes's blood, demanding payment for the crime of murdering his mother. Originally written by Aeschylus, this classical tale is brought to life through a visceral, haunting combination of song, dance, and dialogue.
The production follows the standard structure of an ancient Greek play, which is a source of interest in itself. It begins with the Prologue, spoken to help the audience understand the historical background of the plot. Pythia, Apollo's priestess, enters the temple to deliver the Prologue; she is shocked by a scene of horror and wonder when she finds an exhausted Orestes in the suppliant's chair, surrounded by the sleeping Furies. Next the chorus sings an ode, called the Parodos, and the plot develops with a series of Episodes.
We learn that Orestes has the support of Apollo, for his mother's murder was punishment for a crime of her own. Apollo could perhaps be more God-like – he seems a little too approachable to fit my perceptions – but this may reflect his support for Orestes, and provides a counter-point to the more judgemental goddess Athena. Right after each Episode the chorus sings, and the whole play ends with the Exodus, again performed by the chorus.
The Furies as chorus were perfectly pitched: writhing, haunting creatures of the dark underworld. They sang in guttural voices which turned into howling and shrieking, lending the play a genuinely hellish touch. Their interactions with Athena, the trial of Orestes, and the eventual bargain that Athena makes with them are all executed well. Naomi Wilmshurst on the violin is mesmerizing, and live music really does notch up the quality of the performance.
The actors all seemed very comfortable in their characters, and costumes and make-up completed the experience. However, with the Furies conveying a lot of the message through their songs, the lyrics were occasionally hard to understand. The problem is diminished because their body language is evident – most meaning can be gathered from their dramatic expressions.
My only other complaint would be that the Furies don't get their revenge; after all, Orestes doesn't deny his crime. But since the production is true to the original text of Aeschylus, I will have to raise that quibble with the Greek scholar himself! Overall, The Furies is definitely worth a watch – a gripping performance, featuring both strong song and dance.