Electra review at Gate Theatre London

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The first play of this venue’s final season under the joint artistic directors Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell, who will be leaving in January, is a new version of Sophocles’s tragedy, adapted by award-winning playwright Nick Payne.

After the Trojan Wars, and following Agamemnon’s murder by his wife Clytemnestra, their daughters Electra and Chrysothemis mourn not only the loss of their father, but also that of their brother, Orestes, who went missing after the killing. Ten years later, as Orestes returns to avenge his father, how will Electra react to this new crisis?

Cracknell’s production turns the theatre once again into an open arena, with the audience perched on ledges surrounding the action, which takes place on Holly Waddington’s hard, tiled, adamantine set. In the first moody minutes of the action, Electra is shown scrubbing a large bloodstain from the floor, and this reminder of the murder of her father remains visible throughout the play.

At its best, Payne’s translation has a flinty seriousness, although it is occasionally a bit awkward. In fact, the best moments of this controlled and taut production are virtually wordless, such as when Electra wildly digs herself a grave, or the two recognition scenes, when the sisters meet their brother again. These really catch in the throat.

With its frequent blackouts, and crepuscular gloom, Cracknell’s production is atmospheric and well acted. Cath Whitefield’s intense and defiant Electra contrasts nicely with Natasha Broomfield’s naive and excitable Chrysothemis and Madeleine Potter’s emotional Clytemnestra. Alex Price (Orestes) and Martin Turner (Strophius) are intelligently vengeful. As the young Electra, Fern Deacon and Yasmin Garrad share the part which in this version substitutes the chorus. A punchy account of a classic play.

Production Information

Gate Theatre, London, April 7-May 14

Sophocles, adapted by Nick Payne
Carrie Cracknell
Gate, Young Vic
Cast includes
Natasha Broomfield, Madeleine Potter, Alex Price, Cath Whitefield
Running time
1hr 10mins
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