Thursday, June 6, 2013


Electra (No White Elephant) runs at the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst from June 5-15 2013. By Sophocles, directed by Richard Hilliar. 

No White Elephant’s production of Electra is a solid, clean version of Sophocles’ classic play. While it’s not especially adventurous, it is simple and elegant, showcasing the emotional turmoil of the participants in this horrific drama.

For those unfamiliar with the classics, a brief précis: Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra has killed Agamemnon (because Agamemnon made a religious sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia) and married his cousin, Aegisthus. Electra is enraged at her mother’s actions, and so hopes, prays, and plots for her banished brother Orestes to come home to assume his rightful place on the throne of Mycenae.  

The greatest strength in this production is its casting. Amy Scott-Smith is deeply compelling as the play’s title character. I would have liked to see a little more variation in her performance throughout the show – she ran the risk of being quite one-note – but she realised Electra’s passion and hatred wonderfully. Cat Martin was similarly watchable as Clytemnestra. As the play is told largely from Electra’s perspective, it would be very easy for Clytemnestra to come across as entirely villainous. Martin’s performance allowed us to sympathise with her character and understand her actions, complicating the moral universe of the show. The scene where she recalls how her husband Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to Artemis so he would be blessed with the winds that would take him to Troy was mesmerising. (I had mixed feelings about the way the Greek chorus was used in this show, but this is one instance where their actions heightened, rather than distracted from, the meaning of the show.)

I don’t know if it’s possible to do one of these Greek tragedies in Sydney at the moment without the inevitable comparison to Simon Stone’s production of Thyestes.(That play is set a generation earlier than this one – Agamemnon was the child of Atreus, while Aegisthus is the only living child of Thyestes.) One of the things I really liked about that production was not so much the rewriting but the starting point, the idea that THESE MYTHS ARE REAL (all caps theirs). There’s a tendency with the classics, which keep so much of their bloodshed offstage, for the tragedy to be mitigated for the audience: we forget just how violent and horrific these stories are. The front cover of the program for Electra shows Electra covered in blood, and I think I would have liked to see more of this onstage – not so much the blood, but the violence. The actual action of the play is elided – we know when it happens, because we see Orestes stalk into the wings after Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, but we never witness it. It becomes easier to excuse. This production did well at conveying the emotional impact this violence had on the characters – I must especially commend Nicole Weinberg as Chrysothemis in this respect – but I think actually witnessing more of the actual violence would have had a greater emotional impact on the audience. I’m not talking Thyestes-level this-is-so-violent-against-women-we-can’t-actually-have-female-actors-on-the-stage violence – it wouldn’t need to be stylised or eroticised – but I think actually performing the violence would have helped make it a little more real for the audience. It would have brought it home just what a terrible thing Electra and Orestes have done in the pursuit of justice.

Another thing the show addressed through its performances but I would have liked to see explored in a little more depth is this idea of female futility. At the beginning of the show, Electra is very much a Hamlet figure: she is determined to avenge her father’s death (and her mother has married an inappropriately close relation of said father), and she is going to talk about this – a lot. But whereas Hamlet eventually does take action, Electra can only wait. The only tangible action she can make is to tell Chrysothemis not to place tainted offerings on their father’s grave. When she thinks Orestes is dead, all her hope is lost. When Orestes does return to Mycenae, only then can she act. She essentially does exactly what her mother does – latch onto a male champion to rid her of her enemies. Scott-Smith did a great job of expressing Electra’s complete frustration at her inability to act, but it would have been interesting to get an insight into why Electra couldn’t act on her own: why, culturally, female action is even more taboo than killing your relatives.

While I think this piece could have used tighter direction in parts, Richard Hilliar has done a good job with this production of Electra. The Greeks are hard to tackle, and the show’s focus on the emotional complexities of the characters and how it motivates them to act made for some compelling theatre. The show ends on an indrawn breath, the gasp before a new beginning, new action, a new future. I, for one, will be very interested to see what the future holds for No White Elephant.

No comments:

Post a Comment