Electra-fying – A No White Elephant Production
Sophocles’ Electra (not to be confused with Euripides’ Electra) has been gracing stages for some 2,300 years. It tells the tale of the eponymous heroine’s quest for revenge. Electra’s father, the King Agamemnon, has been murdered by Aegisthus. The deed was sanctioned by her mother, Clytemnestra, who has taken Aegisthus to her bed and made him the new lord of Argo. Electra awaits the return of her brother, Orestes, who, by the use of clever deception, is able to reap vengeance on the duo and so restore order to the realm.
On the surface, Electra is a basic story, but there’s a lot going on in this little play. In the era of its composition, Greek theatre was always very concerned with the preservation of ‘proper order’. In Electra the rightful king is murdered and his position usurped by a false wife and unnatural mother. Whether through human deeds or divine intervention, order must be restored. In this case it is the wiles of Orestes that brings justice to the land. Since Ancient Greece though, a lot has happened. The Electra myth has been adopted into psychoanalytical theory as the Oedipus complex’s companion. Many other texts have used the basic plot as inspiration, notably Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra (1932). Feminists could have a field day with this material: Electra, the strong independent woman, struggles to assert herself but is ultimately disempowered and left to the mercies of her brother’s protection, without whom she is unable to exact her revenge. So entrenched into our culture are some of the play’s themes that it is no stretch to link them to those found in the latest cultural phenomenon, Game of Thrones: for as George R. R. Martin teaches us, the kin slayer is accursed (not to mention the subterfuge and power-plays). Electra is part of our literary and cultural history and on a viewing this is only too apparent. There is something in this play for everyone.
Director Richard Hilliar has offered us a straight interpretation of the text. This is not to be knocked though for at no point does the production fail to compel. Hilliar made the wise choice to remove the opening scene, which adds to the drama of the piece and provides the potential to have a moving moment when Orestes reveals his true identity to his sister. The Chorus (Rose Maher, Naomi Livingstone, Emily Elise) was also genuinely well directed and choreographed, alluding beautifully to the veiled mourners in Greek times. Aside from a few moments when they needlessly pulled focus, there was an obvious purpose to their movement for which Hilliar must be commended.
Amy Scott-Smith was simply electrifying as Electra. Scott-Smith delivered the dialogue as if it were her own; the words flowed, as did her tears. She felt the loss of her father deeply and remained steadfast in her sense of justice and honour to his memory. In a word, Scott-Smith played the inherently complex Electra perfectly. Particularly impressive was Scott-Smith’s ability to gradually reveal that Electra is somewhat uncertain of the very standards of justice that motivates her. Scott-Smith is to be congratulated on a well observed, deeply emotional portrayal.
Chrysothemis (Electra’s sister) played by Nicole Wineberg, is cautious of the impending disaster of her family. Wineberg settled nicely into this role, bringing out the timid, sensible and naïve qualities in Chrysothemis. Wineberg was highly effective in depicting the sheer terror felt by Chrysothemis, and didn’t overdo the hysteria that may have otherwise burdened the character’s portrayal. Unfortunately, Wineberg was at times uncomfortable in her costume, which may have slightly detracted from her focus. But she did well to overcome this.
Clytemnestra, played by Cat Martin, is the mother of Electra and Chrysothemis. Though having a smaller role, Martin was every bit the savage mother. Martin showed that Clytemnestra is completely unashamed of what she has done and played the role with fire and fury. However, Martin also gave Clytemnestra the human streak that Sophocles envisaged. This somewhat justifies her actions once put into the context of a mother’s protective nature (as Electra’s father sacrificed another of his daughters). Overall, Martin commanded this character well.
Unfortunately, the production’s male counterparts were not as strong. Dominic McDonald was the least convincing as Aegisthus the King and now husband of Clytemnestra. McDonald just didn’t take us to the vulnerable place that Electra or the other women did; the audience was left largely unaffected by his breakdown over his wife’s murder. McDonald may need to ground himself further in the character as physically his movements did not match that of a king.
The biggest problem for the males however, was their grasp of the language. This was particularly problematic for Nathanial Scotcher as Orestes, the long lost brother of Electra. Unlike the women, Scotcher let Sophocles’ dialogue engulf him. Instead of being empowered by it, he looked slightly uncomfortable with its meaning. It should also be noted that the men suffered a little in the costume department, looking more like labourers than Ancient Greeks.
Taken as a whole though, this is a very solid production. Greek tragedy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this production surely represents a sterling effort and is well worth a look-in.
No White Elephant’s Electra is playing at the Tap Gallery until the 15th of June. For more information and ticket booking see: