Electra review at the Bunker, London – ‘a stylish adaptation’
As well as being a play about war, John Ward’s adaptation of the Ancient Greek story of Electra is a production at war with itself.
Combining elements of both Sophocles’ and Euripides’ versions of the story, which sees Electra take revenge on her mother Clytemnestra for killing her father Agamemnon, Ward settles on a tone that melds lofty archaisms with swearing-littered colloquialisms.
Just as Sherry Coenen’s excellent lighting is a meeting of cold blue fluorescence one end of the stage and earthy oranges on the other, and the accompanying live music blends folk and punk, so the production as a whole is a stylistic mishmash, a combination of ancient and modern.
These clashes are a clever way to underscore the play’s central clash, between slain king Agamemnon who can claim royal blood going back aeons, and the usurping ingenue Aegisthus who is only king by force. But, although clearly deliberate, the warring styles are also executed a little clumsily.
For all of its concepts and add-ons, what the production lacks is a thematic through-line. The language tells us that this is set in some kind of present day – references to video cameras, TVs, police stations – and there are contemporary political points being made, but too baldly and without clarity.
There’s no attempt made to find subtlety or ambiguity in Clytemnestra, for example, whose swagger and snide, remorseless look mark her out as a villain. And her husband Aegisthus, a politician surrounded by spin doctors, is also an out-and-out baddie.
Although the overlong production is in need of a dramaturg, Ward has found a stylish way to make ancient Greek drama seem exciting and, in the thick of the script, there are some beautiful lines.