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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