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A CurtainUp London Review
The bad blood in this family goes back two generations. Clytemnestra's motive in killing Agamemnon is that he and Menelaus, on the instructions of the gods, sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia to provide the wind to convey the becalmed Greek fleet to Troy, to retrieve Menelaus' wife Helen. But Aegisthus is cousin to Agamemnon and Menelaus and fate saw his brothers served up in a pie to his, and their, father by Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. These multiple murders provide the first requisite of Greek tragedy, the delicate and debatable balance of right and wrong.
Electra (Kristin Scott Thomas) has smuggled her brother Orestes (Jack Lowden) out of the palace and she is the chief mourner defending her father's name in a house ruled by her mother and Aegisthus. Peter Wight plays the servant and male chorus who helps Orestes conceal himself until the time is right.
This is a very physical performance from Kristin Scott Thomas as she appears so disturbed by her father's murder that she is self harming, cutting her legs so that we see blood run from the wounds. She throws her hands up in horror and rolls on the floor in agony and under Ian Rickson's brilliant direction we see only her suffering and agony. Her poignant performance is deeply affecting and sincere. I felt we were in the presence of a truly great stage actor such as graced the Old Vic many decades ago when the principle outlet for acting was the stage rather than film or television. Diana Quick sweeps in as the regal Clytemnestra, a powerful and political figure with no maternal warmth about her. Electra's sister Chrysothemis (Liz White) has compromised with her mother and step father and enigmatically says to Electra, "Sometimes being right is wrong." Tyrone Huggins' Aegisthus is brutal and unpleasant and skews our sympathy towards Electra and Orestes.
Running for 100 minutes without an interval, the intensity sears the message of the intransigence of this family conflict. As Orestes returns after Electra has been told he has died, her genuine joy contrasts with her former grief, empowering her, making her shout like someone with bi-polar disorder.
Playing the in re-configured round space at the Old Vic, a very involving stage, Mark Thompson's set reminds of Waiting For Godot with its solitary massive tree trunk. A huge door is to the side with steps down. Insistent guitar music sets the scenic atmosphere. A traditional chorus of three women gather for many of Electra's scenes.
I am so pleased to have seen such a convincing and anguished Electra on top form and I am sure there will be Best Actress nominations and at least one award for Kristin Scott Thomas later this year.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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