Each of the intervals during the three hours, forty minutes running time of the Almeida Theatre's Oresteia is announced as a break by the Chorus (Rudi Dharmalingam). We are instructed to return within the designated time or be refused admittance, and there are clocks counting down the minutes and seconds just to make sure you know.
It isn't as much of a gimmick as it first appears but part of a theatrical device that only becomes clear as the play progresses although it works brilliantly at getting everyone back in their seats for a prompt start.
The clocks are not the only way that director Robert Icke plays with time during this powerful production and neither is it the first time he plays with the audience.
Oresteia, the first in the Almeida's Greeks season, was originally three plays telling the story of Orestes (Luke Thompson) the son of Klytemnestra (Lia Williams) and Agamemnon (Angus Wright). In this adaptation by Icke he melts the three into one story but introduces elements that are usually told in other Greek tragedies. For example, rather than starting the play at the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan war he begins with the events leading up to his departure it helps put Klytemnestra and Orestes' behaviour into context.
In Icke's Oresteia what you get is the story of a family torn apart by faith and tragedy which raises questions about justice and revenge. Agamemnon's lands are threatened by war and he puts his faith in the Gods whom he believes have sent him a sign: He must kill his youngest daughter to ensure victory. It is an act he naturally agonises over: is the death of his treasured daughter worth it to save many other lives? It makes for a powerful, emotionally charged and disturbing first act and includes ones of the most distressing scenes I've watched in the theatre.