Synopsis: a series of vignettes that allow us to encounter over 100 characters as they struggle to negotiate intimacy in the face of our rapidly advancing world.
What moved me: I saw the New York Theatre Workshop production of this work at the beginning of 2014 and I was gobsmacked. I’d never seen Churchill onstage before and now here before me were maybe 50 scenes being played out, with a complete overhaul of the stage between each one. A swing-set, an airport, a bed. It unrolled with steadily increasing depth – like she was dipping her hand under somebody’s skin.
What I found shocking when I read the script was how little she has prescribed in this vision. No setting, no stage directions, no character delineation. Just her words.
Synopsis: Atreus is king of Mycenae and is intent on revenge against his brother Thyestes. Sons of Pelops, they were destined to take turns ruling the country and keeping the symbol of power, a ram with a golden fleece. However, while Atreus was king, Thyestes seduced his wife and together they stole the ram. Civil war ensued. Now Atreus is king again whilst Thyestes and his three sons are in exile. He lures his brother and nephews to his kingdom on the promise of peace and the offer of sharing his crown. Unbeknownst to Thyestes, Atreus murders the boys and cooks them (save their heads, hands, and feet) to serve to their father for the celebration feast. Revenge is realised when he reveals to the sated Thyestes the fate of his young sons.
What moved me: the economy of Churchill’s version has stripped back the slight floridness usually associated in my mind with much translation of classical tragedy. She exposes a perfectly-working muscle. Blunt. Fast. There is little hope of redemption. Seneca’s decision to end the play with the rotten Atreus, instead of the Chorus, is no accident.