Onto a semi-darkened stage empty but for a cluster of oriental gong and Japanese drums enter five men in wheelchairs and clad only in shorts. Circling the instruments they then snake and whizz around the whole stage, making animal-like noises and manic grunts. Such is the bizarre and rather tedious opening chorus sequence of Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki’s version of the Greek myth of Electra and her brother Orestes slaying their mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her murder of their father Agamemnon. Loosely based on Euripides’ Elektra, first performed around 414BC in response to Aeschylus’ earlier Oresteia, and on Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s 1903 version from Sophocles’ Elektra, Suzuki’s interpretation twists Euripides’ vicious realism into a demented nightmare in a psychiatric institution, expressing his philosophy that “all the world’s a hospital, and all men and women merely inmates”.
A scene from Waiting for Orestes: Electra at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Electra, played with fierce intensity by Korean actress Yoo-Jeong Byun, is a deranged creature shrieking for revenge, as the chorus in Beckett idiom taunts Orestes will never return to exact it, and her sister Chrysothemis declares him dead. Clytemnestra, interpreted with sustained force by Chieko Naito in Miyake fashion kimono, is demented from the first, ranting in exaggerated kabuki style against her daughter and tortured by dreams of Orestes’ return. Suddenly wheeled in, Orestes (strongly played by Yoichi Takemori) re-focuses the drama: his mother must die, but torn between duty of revenge and sin of matricide, hesitates before the fateful act.
Minimalist staging and Midori Takada’s atmospheric drumming heighten the appeal of Toga Company’s relentlessly focused performance (in Japanese and Korean with English supertitles) of its highly inventive director’s unique vision of the ancient myth.