Electra***** (Old Vic)

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Theatre

electra2014 is turning out to be an unforgettable year for the Old Vic as it moves from one triumph to another. The decision to re-configue the auditorium to in-the-round was inspired, so memo to Messrs Spacey and Warchus: this is a space that London theatre cannot afford to lose. Here, the auditorium becomes a Greek amphitheatre; the stage is set as the forefront of a palace, the imposing doors of which have concealed betrayal and murder. Electra is the female equivalent of Hamlet in the simplest sense, her father, Agamemnon, having been slain and her mother, Clytemnestra, having married his killer. Hamlet is shackled by indecision, Electra by female frailty and she looks to the return of her exiled brother, Orestes to gain the vengeance with which she has become obsessed. Sophocles’ play, here using Frank McGuinness’s lean and lucid translation, is not a tragedy, it is a revenge thriller and director Ian Rickson piles on the tension in every scene, using original music by PJ Harvey to ratchet it up. It never matters that the casting pays little regard to relative ages, because almost every part of the production and every performance is totally mesmerising. Diana Quick is fearsome as Clytemnestra, a woman who, when told that her son is dead, enquires whether there will be anything in it for her. Jack Lowden, a heroic Orestes, could well become regarded as a lucky talisman for leading actresses; in the Almeida’s Ghosts, he played opposite last year’s Olivier award winner and it will be major shock if he does not do the same this year. As Electra, Kristen Scott Thomas is magnificent. Playing very much against type, she appears in a plain robe with hair dishevelled, howling and raging in grief and frustration. She and the chorus of three women turn the stage into a cauldron of hatred, but it is her demonstration of uncontainable joy that is likely to remain longest in the memory – waving her arms, touching, hugging, smelling what she has seen, but still disbelieving what her eyes have told her. The production meanders just a little in the middle, but, at 100 minutes straight through, there is rarely time to draw breath and the final third scales the heights of theatrical magic. Electrafying!

Performance date: 30 September 2014

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