Thyestes - Arcola Theatre - Projection design by 59 Productions


By Seneca, translated by Caryl Churchill

Presented by Darbourne Luff

Director Polly Findlay

Designer Hannah Clark

Video Designer Mark Grimmer

Associate Video Designer Lysander Ashton

Sound Chris Shutt

Lighting Matt Pitman




"For punishment, I leave you to your children."

There is a curse on the house of Atreus. Coming home from the wilderness, Thyestes is about to uncover the unthinkable.

Blunt, fast and terrifying, this ancient horror story comes alive through the latest in twenty-first century technology.


"Everywhere you look these days, you encounter theatre shows that aspire to the condition of art installations. The emphasis is no longer on "presenting" a play; it's about creating a total, immersive environment. Thyestes at the Arcola in Dalston is a perfect case in point. The story shows us Seneca at his bloody, brutal best...Video designer Mark Grimmer's ingenious projections make it look as if blood is seeping from the furniture – and that there are children trapped and dying inside. How do you react when you learn you've eaten your own offspring? Jamie Ballard's Thyestes goes for broke, retching violently, scrabbling at his stomach, eyes blinded with grief. It's high-risk stuff, but, like so much else in this production, it pays off handsomely...Immaculate."

****The Daily Telegraph

"Best known as a source for Titus Andronicus, Seneca's splatterfest has a rare outing here in a translation by Caryl Churchill and a modern-dress production by Polly Findlay that gives the knife an extra turn. Have supper before, because it might be a little hard to stomach after....this is a brilliantly controlled production by Findlay and designer Hannah Clark that scratches the underbelly of a kingdom and a family locked in a cycle of murder and mayhem among the dusty ledgers and filing cabinets. If it were not for this control - along with the fetid atmosphere, Churchill's stiletto-like translation and performances to die for - you might dismiss this as style over substance, intent on knocking Seneca's dusty tell-and-show structure into submission.

But the brooding tone, clever use of lighting and snatches of video, which make it appear as if the cabinets harbour ghosts and the ledgers are splattered with blood, combine to create an intense 70 minutes driven by Jamie Ballard's wounded Thyestes and Nick Fletcher's Atreus."

****The Guardian

"Seneca’s tragedy, in a tense, taut translation by Caryl Churchill, is based on a Greek myth about a family cursed for generations by the gods. King Atreus (Nick Fletcher) offers peace to his exiled brother, Thyestes (Jamie Ballard), but his intentions are murderous. Hannah Clark’s set, grim and subterranean, reminds you of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs — an installation whose subject is cruelty. Fletcher’s Atreus is cool and calculating: don’t kill your enemy, kill his loved ones. Polly Findlay’s production is harrowing but fiercely controlled, and the terrible closing scene is shattering precisely because it is so humane. Ballard’s performance here is an unforgettable picture of helpless suffering. I can’t forget his son, either: a little boy playing with a Rubik’s cube as if life had a solution."

****Sunday Times

"Roman tragedy meets torture porn, anyone? OK, “torture porn” is slightly overstating the horror-film flavour of this audacious revival of Seneca’s play, as translated by Caryl Churchill. Human flesh may get eaten here — but only offstage. A loving dad may be presented with the severed faces of his children — but they’re hard to make out amid the shadows and smoke of Hannah Clark’s set, in which dark deeds are enacted amid cabinets and box files...Findlay’s staging makes this one-act revenge drama well worth catching. Make it through the murkier first half, and this is a short, sharp shocker with a hell of a sting."

***The Times

Director Polly Findlay’s finely controlled but gut-wrenchingly painful production of Seneca’s Thyestes reminds us how terrifying theatre can be. With the help of a talented cast and imaginative staging, Findlay lures us into a world steeped in sin and traps us deep inside. The full horror of Seneca’s tragedy – and this play is as gruesome as they come – is always hinted at but rarely unleashed. Thyestes takes place in the doomed House of Atreus, with King Atreus planning revenge against his exiled and treacherous brother. The promise of revenge hangs heavily and when its threat is finally released it takes over the stage: the TV screens bleed red and the lights flicker in fear."


"Polly Findlay’s gruesome, slasher-movie staging renders Seneca’s ancient fable of filial revenge chillingly relevant. Naked bulbs buzz overhead in the basement of Atreus’s palace, all oily puddles, ominously capacious barrels, and piles of anonymous black binders, the graveyard of countless, unsightly crimes. In such a setting, Caryl Churchill’s hypnotic, atonal translation refuses to consign Thyestes to history....a potent modern rendering of an undying classic."

Time Out

"Polly Findlay has orchestrated a truly haunting production that conjures up a genuinely eerie sense of menace and dread. Mutterings from the floors above get closer and absent children flicker across ledgers before vanishing as blood drips down the security monitors. From the moment Jamie Ballard’s ghost emerges from an oil drum gasping for air, the evening never lessens its grip.

Ballard also returns (minus other-worldly contact lenses) in the title role and beautifully captures the unease of a man who cannot locate the precise nature of his fears until it is too late. Meanwhile Nick Fletcher offers an utterly chilling performance of a besuited butcher whose pulse barely quickens as he plunges in the knife. These are two brothers who are forever cursed to mirror the other’s emptiness.

This is a taut, searing evening, full of telling detail. Time and again, we catch shuddering glimpses of a familiar domesticity that has been irrevocably warped."


"Polly Findlay’s production serves Churchill’s translation well proving Roman drama, like her elder sister Greek Tragedy, definitely has a place in a modern audience’s repertoire of theatre. The language combined with the production qualities and the inclusion of multimedia ensures this production has a current relevancy. Mark Grimmer’s subtly haunting multimedia design provides a harrowing visual impact to the messenger’s speech revealing the fate of Thyestes’ treasured sons. Grimmer achieves the effect of 3D silhouettes of children's hands grappling to be saved, projected against disused lockers; chilling....I must admit I was dubious that the use of video design would clash against as opposed to compliment the ancient conventions, but my reservations were quashed. "


"This is a gloriously gut-churning production, with little touches of directing brilliance from Polly Findlay. The moment in which Atreus spies his brother and nephews coming into his trap from a small CCTV screen is chillingly appropriate. The video design, created by Mark Grimmer for Fifty Nine Productions, is one of the most anticipated aspects of the evening, and does not fail to impress, with very believable ghosts and blood stains flashing in front of our eyes. Everything comes together as highly stylish but not obnoxious. And yes, it is also quite scary."


"The saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” takes on a horrid new tenor after a viewing of Thyestes. Seneca’s remorseless Roman tragedy, served up here in a riveting production by Polly Findlay and a taut translation by Caryl Churchill, tells of a particularly nasty episode in the history of the blood-soaked House of Atreus....Not for the faint-hearted, then, and Findlay and her team plunge in with great invention. Hannah Clark’s set confines us in a lugubrious, underground archive, full of ancient filing cabinets, dusty shelves and dingy boxes: a place where every grudge is recorded, nothing ever forgotten...striking."

Financial Times