Waiting for Orestes: Electra

Euripides and Hugo von Hofmannstahl

Suzuki Company of Toga

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

From 11 August 2012 to 13 August 2012

Rating: **

Review by Philip Fisher

Traditional Japanese theatrical forms have always favoured ritual over content and this hour-long presentation by the Suzuki Theatre of Toga takes the to theory to the limits in a production performed in Japanese and Korean.

Maestro, Tadashi Suzuki, apparently sets the stark drama in a home for the physically and possibly mentally disadvantaged. 

He majors on the look of the piece and benefits from a very careful lighting design, to complement the minimalism of the staging.

Coming from such an alien tradition, this can be a tough performance for untrained Western eyes to appreciate. The opening is hardly user-friendly, as a quintet of wheelchair-bound, barely-dressed chorus men follow each other around on stage without uttering a word. They do at least end wittily enough in a chase.

The chorus then welcomes the wheelchaired Yoo-Jeong Byun as Electra, a dancer and contortionist who likes to appear almost catatonic. This means that her fellows are obliged to voice her lines.

Electra is a very unhappy lady, as her unnamed mother, the quite fearsome Chieko Naito playing Clytemnestra, has been instrumental in the killing of her own husband Agamemnon.

This explains the wait for Orestes, whom Electra hopes will avenge their father’s murder, though their sister Chrysothemis seems less optimistic.

After the painfully slow start, the 70 minutes build to a dramatic and chastening ending as is inevitable in Greek tragedy.

The whole is accompanied by impressively evocative percussion from Midori Takada. It looks great, thanks to a stylish staging that emphasises the precision of the medium and at times makes the actors look like puppets controlled by a director/puppeteer.

For lovers of the Japanese way, this will undoubtedly be a rare delight.