Yesterday evening I took the overground train to London Waterloo and walked to The Old Vic Theatre in the pouring rain. I collected my tickets from the ticket office and then found my seat in the auditorium. I was going to watch the Greek tragedy “Electra” by Sophocles.
Having watched the National Theatre’s production of ‘Medea’ about a month previously, I had high hopes for ‘Electra’. The first thing that struck me was that the theatre was set up in the round (i.e. the audience was placed on at least three sides of the stage). This seemed to be highly effective and emphasised how intimate the play would be. The stage also looked impressive, with the props kept to a bare minimum: a barren tree, a (slightly modern-looking) tap and the two huge doors of the palace shut tightly, and the floor was covered in grains of sand.
The Old Vic has summarised the play of ‘Electra’:
Electra is bound by grief following the murder of her father Agamemnon, unwilling to forgive and consumed by a desire for revenge, her anger builds. On the return of her brother Orestes, Electra’s fury explodes without mercy, leading to a bloody and terrifying conclusion.
When Kristin Scott Thomas appears on stage, she is wearing a skimpy grey dress and has clearly been made to look quite scruffy and dirty. She looks scarily thin and pale, and her hair is cut short and sticks up on end whenever she combs her fingers through it. Her take on Electra was astonishingly effective and you completely forget that she is fifty-four years old playing the character of an adolescent girl. Her soliloquy at the start, wailing and lamenting about her father, is moving and she captivates the audience successfully, particularly the speech she says as she lies face down on the floor, moaning about her life. I think her costume really helped conjure up the image of a frail teenager who is full of grief; her thin grey dress was baggy which also helped her look petite.
The pace of the play was fairly slow for the first 90 minutes or so, and I could tell that members of the audience near me were beginning to grow restless (especially the kids on a school trip sitting behind me). It was intense and this particular play required a lot of attention before the real action happened. The majority of the content is in the words and the poetry, the chorus’ involvement and the themes which are addressed so I’m not surprised that a few people were either put off by it or somehow got lost in the whole thing.
The acting was really good overall, but I think I was surprised that this particular production was far more serious and slightly less dramatic than NT’s ‘Medea’. Although ‘Electra’ did have a few comedic parts to break the tension at times, I felt that there could have been more engagement. The minimal music could either be interpreted as ineffective, or it could be seen as trying to replicate the instruments that the Greeks themselves would have used when they put on the plays. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the play, but I think personally the production could have tried to ensure that the audience was fully interested all the way through, since the real action doesn’t occur until the last half-an-hour or so. I also feel that it would have been difficult for people who weren’t familiar with Greek tragedy to understand since it is very different to modern day plays. Perhaps this is the reason why I found it much more serious than any other play I’ve seen before and so I’m not used to it. I’m no expert on Greek tragedy (though I’m beginning to study it in my A2 course), but I did enjoy it and I liked the fact it was different and something unexpected.
A great end to a lovely evening!
You can buy tickets here.
Have you been to the theatre lately?