Jane Darby’s blistering production of Electra brought the heat and heartbreak of Sophocles tragedy to the Ellis Theatre last week. The urgent pulse of the text was given incredible depth by a group of highly committed actors; the challenge of this play in all its complexity hurtled around the Ellis Theatre in a fully contemporary concept that never lost touch with its ancient traditions. This was an Electra that raged against the 24-hour news cycle, that brought the pulse and immediacy of modern media to McGuiness’ stark translation. Poppy I as Electra was simply superb, sharply hunting in the corners of the text, ever shifting and moving her grief from denial to blame, from anger to despair.
This was a tour de force performance that was wrought from intense, hard work and it was wonderful to see it explode on the Ellis stage. Equally impressive was Nancy M as Chyrsothemis who brought a grounded pragmatism to the role, swerving and quelling her sister’s despair. Ottilie G as Clytemnestra was a portrait of privilege and arrogance, as she sipped her cocktail and flicked violently through Vogue allowing her ego to blind her to Alexandra B’s sharp and nimble-minded Servant. Rafferty T’s Orestes was fraught and urgent, a caged animal that was poured from the same cup as his sister and just as eager to take his revenge.
Framing and supporting this action were the chorus of journalists, each with their own perspective on the action. Olivia H’s professional and objective broadcaster kept a firm grip on proceedings, lending a convincing authority to the breaking news on stage. Hannah N’s empathy and care was brilliantly contrasted by Clemmie A-B’s sharp condemnation and tempered with the well-meaning balance of Honor B-G’s desire to get the facts of the story clear. The ever-present but stealthy journalists were a stark reminder of the public arena in which this private, domestic tragedy was being played out.
There was a physical lurch in the audience as Aegisthus, played with passion by Dominic D-S, finally joined the action for the bloody climax of the tragedy. This was a powerful conclusion to the painstaking mix of impatience and tension that brewed like the ever-present storm just above the action; a visceral image of revenge that had been channelled through a decade of savage grief. This was all stage managed with great skill by Poppy G-C, who also took on the role as a dramaturg in rehearsal, putting her passion for classics to excellent use.
All of this took place in the opulent setting of the palace garden, brilliantly brought to the stage by Paul Cox. The graceful stone archways were interrupted by the press tent; a wonderful symbol of the ancient and modern fusing together. The heat of the Mediterranean was evoked through Josh Hill’s sensitive lighting design and highlighted by Dale Armitage’s carefully coded costumes symbolising the status and condition of each character.
This was a magnificent production; challenging and absorbing, and a wonderful opportunity for all those involved, as well as all those that were lucky enough to see it in performance.
Head of Drama