Although I have seen productions of Ancient Greek tragedy before they have often felt formal and detached from our society due to the strict constraints of the form. However, this production of Electra at the Old Vic felt alive with raw emotion as the superb Kristin Scott Thomas laid bare the eponymous character’s continued conflict with the expectations of society and familial loyalty. As with so many plots of Ancient Greek tragedies the action in Electra is tied up with events surrounding the Trojan War and expects its audience to have intimate knowledge of what has and will occur. Following the murder of her father, Agamemnon, by her mother, Clytemnestra, Electra continues to honour her father’s memory while forced to live with her mother and her mother’s lover as she waits for her brother to avenge the murder. She ostracises herself from the family that surrounds her by refusing to adapt to this new situation and therefore serves as a reminder for the whole household for what has occurred.
The set was very simple, with only a withered tree and some double doors. However, it was placed in the round so that the feel of an open air courtyard was created, with the audience observing from all sides. This simplicity was also reflected in the costumes, with Scott Thomas clad in a dirty tunic and others in cleaner, modernised Ancient Greek clothing. In particular, Electra’s sister who has accepted her place in this new, disrupted home wears colourful beads in her complicatedly arranged hair in contrast to the wild disarray of Electra. Electra appears unable to grow up as she focuses her entire life on loyalty to Agamemnon and so is unable to act on anything which might suggest healing, such as marriage or forgiveness.
Without a doubt Kristin Scott Thomas is the play’s triumph. At one moment she skips around the stage as if a carefree toddler and then stops to throw out a sarcastic comment in a world weary manner. The Electra she portrays is unbalanced but only due to the strain she has lived under for so many years constantly defying those around her. She became more haggard throughout the play as even the supposed ashes of her brother, Orestes, were spilt over her. Although I sympathised with Electra’s desperation her sole focus on avenging her father is clearly destructive and Scott Thomas suggests that her life has become irreparably narrowed. Contemporary audiences would have been aware that although revenge is wreaked Orestes soon suffers consequences and is pursued by the Furies.
Sadly I saw the play on the very last night so the run has now ended but if you do want any more information on the play do look here. I will definitely make sure that I see Kristin Scott Thomas again on stage as she was truly mesmerising and Electra is not an experience I will forget. Thank you very much to Anna for providing the tickets!