Theatre review - Electra

Sophocles’ ELECTRA

In a new version by Nick Payne

Directed by Carrie Cracknell

Gate Theatre, Running until 14 May 2011

When Electra’s father King Agamemnon is forced to sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, it sets in motion a bloody trail of retribution. On Agamemnon’s return from the Trojan War, he is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Fearing for the life of her younger brother, Orestes, Electra leads him away into the safety of exile but returns herself to live with her mother and step-father.

Ten years on, Electra still cannot forgive her mother and, dreaming of vengeance, eagerly awaits her brother’s return.

Carrie Cracknell’s visually striking production opens with a series of stunning tableaux, highlighting the emotional forces that propel the play to its tragic conclusion.

Nick Payne’s visceral and supple version, running at just 70-minutes, concentrates on the personal rather than the political. Electra’s passionate desire for justice dominates the proceedings but this is tempered somewhat by the clever decision to reinvent the chorus as Electra’s younger self – the child who witnessed her father’s bloody end.

It is an intense play performed by a pitch-perfect cast of six. Cath Whitefield perfectly captures the debilitating, often frenzied grief of Electra. There is an extraordinary scene in which Electra literally digs up her father’s grave and lies in the earth. Madeleine Potter is a poised Queen, cold, rational and tantalisingly ambivalent in her love for her children, and the mother-daughter confrontation is one of the most memorable scenes in the play. Natasha Broomfield offers the perfect counterpoint to Electra as her sister Chrysothemis and Alex Price is a fervid but resolute Orestes.

All the senses are assailed in this supremely theatrical production. Holly Waddington’s imaginative tomb-like tile design also recalls the bathroom in which Agamemnon was murdered. When part of this is dug up you can smell the fresh soil underneath. Guy Hoare provides atmospheric lighting and Tom Mills’ soundscape ratchets up the tension.

A vibrant new interpretation of Sophocles’ classic. Not to be missed.

Originally published in Theatreworld