Riverside Studios, London W6
Opened 5 December, 1991

This fierce, debilitatingly intense experience leaves cool evaluation far behind. Most interpretations portray Electra as driven almost mad by her mother's murdering her father and installing fancy-man Aegisthus as king of Argos. Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner trample on the "almost": this Electra is not only shockingly cracked, her shards are flying at high velocity. After the initial arrival incognito of avenging brother Orestes (John Lynch transcending his Botticelli-Afghan hound image of old in a creation of wiles and determination), the piece is played at more or less constant fever pitch, concentrated in the person of Electra. Hers is a character written on one note, but Shaw's one note (varying in volume, steady in sheer force) can cleave boulders.

Hildehard Bechtler's set bare stage, steel doors to the scene-dock painted red, stone floor, down the middle a runnel of water which Electra paces, and in which Orestes later washes his mother's blood from his hands simply focuses attention on the agonies being conveyed. When it's all over, instead of the usual closing choric section we're left with Electra gathering up scattered petals in a fit of discomfiting displacement activity. She's in shock, and so are we.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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