by Laura Kressly
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote this in 1943, at the height of Nazi occupation of Europe. The adaptation of the Orestes myth centres on the city of Argos, ruled by King Aegisthus, who deposed and killed the previous ruler Agamemnon 15 years previously. Aegisthus then married Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra, enslaved their daughter Electra, and sent the young Orestes out into the woods to die. Since then, the city has been plagued by giant flies and the civilians must lead sombre and mournful lives – but Orestes has now returned to exact his revenge. This update is well-staged with a clear aesthetic, but the pace is often too slow for the high-stakes story.
Exchange Theatre, a bilingual company that alternates performances between French and English over the run, composes their casts of people who speak multiple languages. As such, some of the actors find it harder to connect to the performance in their non-native one. Having seen some of Exchange Theatre’s productions before, this one is no different – some performances are flat and awkwardly delivered, others are fully detailed. In the English version, Raul Fernandes, David Furlong, Fanny Dulin and Meena Rayan are particularly engaging. No doubt seeing the French version will show the actors who find it harder to act in English excelling in French. Whilst their ethos is commendable and the company contributing culturally and linguistically diverse theatre to London’s audiences, the first half of this show plods along in monotone rather than gathering momentum towards its climax.
Director David Furlong includes live music, both atmospheric background and diegetic, from an onstage band that adds to the hard rock design aesthetic. The citizens of Argos are dressed in black, bearing red armbands decked with an all-seeing eye logo – this is a clever, triple parallel to the swastikas Sartre would have seen infiltrating his country, the gods of the ancient world who see everything, and today, instead of the gods, CCTV and big data mean we are never truly alone. This eye is also enlarged on red flags along the back wall, watching the audience as well.
Exchange Theatre’s work commendably fills gaps in foreign language theatre and French plays, but this is not without its pitfalls. Though it’s worth seeing a staging of a Sartre play that’s rarely done in the UK, and one with contemporary relevance, this one is not as compelling as it could be. The story is a great one, some of the performances don’t do it justice.
The Flies – Les Mouches runs through 6 July in London.
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