“My husband kills my daughter, so I kill him. Then my son kills me. Let’s face it, I had it coming.”
So said actress Zindzi Okenyo about her role as Clytemnestra in the Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Oresteia.
This is Greek tragedy, where everyone on stage meets a grisly end. In fact, it’s probably safest to check your usher doesn’t have murderous intent before taking your seat in the audience.
Okenyo and co-star Richard Pyros chatted to Sydney Star Observer between rehearsals for the epic production which opens this week.
Pyros plays Aegisthus, the cousin of Clytemnestra’s husband, who enters into an adulterous relationship with her while his cousin is absent (one that ends — you guessed it — brutally).
“It’s a story about one family, with a curse across generations that keeps rearing its head,” Pyros said.
“This version takes a more specific focus on the sexual politics of the piece, so it becomes more about masculinity, femininity, patriarchal and matriarchal power.
“It’s a very patriarchal society shown on stage where men dictate what goes on — any sign of power from women is stamped out by men. And of course there are still elements of that around today; it always seems to be men who dictate the terms.”
“These stories are so deep in history, although this setting is contemporary,” Okenyo said.
“The language is still very poetic, although [adaptor and director] Tom Wright has dropped some pearlers in there too. I have one line: ‘I’m serious, Orestes, I’m a tough, tough bitch’,” she continued, clearly relishing the chance to perform such a preposterously camp one-liner.
Both Okenyo and Pyros joined the STC last year as part of the Residents program, the brainchild of joint artistic directors Cate Blanchett and husband Andrew Upton.
“The company has changed with their input. We now work across the company, helping with education, backstage work, and working with writers,” Okenyo said. “It’s about creating a group of actors who have a whole range of skills and are able to be self-sustainable: to be able to create theatre ourselves.”
“This model of an ensemble is [Cate and Andrew’s] vision, really, to have us more integrated into the lifeblood of the company, rather than just being actors who come in and do our one job,” Pyros added.
But acting remains their primary focus, and it’s a taxing job, immersing oneself in bloody familial conflicts night after night. Okenyo in particular admitted she found Clytemnestra a challenging character.
“It’s a hard role. She’s constantly either in hysteria or exaltation, or she’s exhausted from her exaltation — there’s really no lapse in energy through the performance.”
Sounds like she’ll need a cup of tea and a good lie-down after each show.
“Or a strong whisky…”

info: Oresteia plays at STC until July 4. Visit www.sydneytheatre.com.au

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