The Old Vic has transformed itself into an intimate space again for Electra. The circular stage is tiny and bare; an old tree stands opposite the imposing doors to the royal palace of Argos, marking the invisible boundaries that contain Electra and her fury, sorrow and lust for revenge.
This play is based on Frank McGuinness’ adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Electra, a story of obsession and revenge. Electra (Kristin Scott Thomas) morns the death of her father, who was murdered by her mother. She longs for revenge, awaiting the return of her beloved brother, Orestes, who she is convinced will help her kill their mother.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives a powerful performance as the daughter distort with grief and rage, walking the narrow line between hateful obsession and madness. Before us she withers, wails, contorts her body and strikes the ground. She prowls around the stage, pulling at her tangled hair in despair and anger, flinging barbed accusations and impassioned explanations at anyone who dares speak to her or tries to console her. It is through these exchanges that the story of her father’s murder, her brother’s exile, her own miserable existence and her plans for revenge are told.
Electra here is not a steely controlled woman focussed on revenge. She is out of control, on the verge of hysteria, fuelled by hate and frustration. There are strange moments of sarcastic irony amongst the anguished rhetoric that cause the audience to laugh nervously. This seems strange at times, as though the acting has gone too far or is over done in some way, yet it also makes the performance seem more real, heightening the tension, driving home the frustration and augmenting the psychological anguish of the woman before us.
This is theatre at its best and Kristin Scott Thomas is thrilling to watch.
Credits and Notes: Images are from the Old Vic site and part of their promotional material.