Thyestes

★★★★
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Thyestes
Published 03 Mar 2018

Thyestes is one of the most infamous plays of antiquity for its gruesome and disquieting depiction of revenge, but Seneca the Younger’s surviving adaptation of the drama can come across as staid and perfunctory to modern audiences.

With its conventional structure, and focus on rhetorical monologue, it struggles to convey the sense of devastation and trauma that would have been evident to Seneca's contemporaries.

Simon Stone has chosen to greatly expand on Seneca’s play, firstly by rebuilding the context around which the infamous act of revenge occurs, and secondly by investing most of his energies into the characterisation of the twin brothers Thyestes and Atreus.

Stone also eschews the period setting, but it is the renewed focus on the twins which does the most to modernise the play, as the audience are completely invested in them when the drama takes a dark turn.

When the turn comes, the action becomes visceral and gratuitous, which is fitting enough given the source material. But the audiences will find themselves in close proximity to highly explicit depictions of violence, including sexual violence. Regardless, this is a profoundly thoughtful adaptation which translates the thematic content with terrible efficiency.