Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed.

The 40 Year Twitch is a rather amusing piece of comic writing from Daniel Thurman. It may seem frothily light in its daffy silliness but it has a delightful sense of wit about it, with a particularly good line in avian punning. The story follows Yvonne who finds herself made redundant at the age of 64 and completely unprepared for this change in her status in life, she is at a loss with what to do with her time. So her attention lands full square on her husband – a passionate birdwatcher, or birder as we come to find out is the correct term – and the state of her marriage.

Unable to unwind into retirement like best friend Wendy has done, Yvonne engages in a madcap journey to uncover the truth of why her partner Neil spends so much time in his hobby, fearful that it is to escape from her. Paula Wilcox makes Yvonne a wonderfully fraught presence, especially against the relaxed dry wit of Anne Reid’s Wendy to tries to welcome her into a world of yoga classes, Spanish lessons and afternoon teas. And as the binocular-toting Neil, Philip Jackson brings a lovely geniality, endearingly tolerant of his wife’s increasingly batty antics. Charmingly sweet.

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