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The Theatreguide.London Review

Gate Theatre   Spring 2011

Carrie Cracknell's new production of one of the most unrelentingly black of all Greek tragedies captures all the horror of Sophocles' harrowing study in burning and self-lacerating hatred.

Ten years after the murder of Agamemnon, others have made their peace with the reality and only his daughter remains haunted by grief and anger. Unable to exact any revenge beyond constantly reminding her mother of the crime, she dreams of the return of her brother Orestes.

Orestes is on his way, though Electra doesn't know that, and the bulk of the play is devoted to exploring the depth of her hatred and what it is costing her.

Director Cracknell draws us wholly into this very personal drama. The play is performed in transverse, with a single row of audience members on each side, so we are literally an arm's length from the actors, and Cracknell has altered Nick Payne's new translation to internalise the play even further.

In place of the commenting Chorus, she brings onstage the spirit of Electra as she was at the time of the murder, so that the child actress and the adult Electra share the singing, chanting and speaking of the Chorus's lines, turning external commentary into internal thought and emotion.

Cracknell also cuts some of Payne's more poetic passages, most notably the Chorus's speech that accompanies the darkest moment in the play, when the despairing Electra digs her own grave, leaving us nothing to hear but the grunts and breathing of the hard-working actress bringing the character's desperation fully alive.

(Elsewhere, Payne's adaptation is serviceable, only occasionally grating on the ear with anachronistic infelicities like 'O K' and 'You're on your own'.)

Cath Whitefield gives a fully committed and courageous performance as Electra, allowing herself to look obsessive, mad and even ugly in her depiction of the character's uncensored passion.

Madeleine Potter creates a strong antagonist as Clytemnestra, taking full advantage of Sophocles' reminder that the queen had what she considered fully adequate justification for her crime.

Alex Price's boyish Orestes and Natasha Broomfield's feeling but reasonable Chrysothemis provide contrasts by which to measure Electra's near-madness, and Martin Turner is solid as Orestes' mentor.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Electra - Gate Theatre 2011


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