Electra

Sophocles, in a new version by Nick Payne
Gate, Notting Hill
(2011)

Electra publicity photo

Carrie Cracknell has worked very hard to make this stylish, 80-minute modern reworking of Sophocles' Electra memorable. In doing so, she has given Nick Payne's new version the feel of a contemporary gangster movie.

The silent prologue it so well done that it was going to be hard to live up to. Across a narrow, traverse the length of the theatre, the various characters appeared from darkness to provide a series of atmospheric images that prefigured their parts in one of the many Greek tragedies of family woe.

There is always a backstory and in this case, the titular Electra's father, Agamemnon, had sacrificed her sister Iphigenia at Aulis for the sake of a little bit of wind.

Mum, Clytemnestra, has killed her husband in revenge and then quickly married Aegisthus, leaving Electra literally maddened and thirsting for vengeance. This is the kind of role that Cath Whitefield relishes and she oozes bitterness throughout, also managing more than one bloodcurdling primal scream.

As she is suffering, so is her brother, Alex Price's Orestes, the subject of his own trilogy in the hands of Aeschylus. He has been separated from his sisters since the tragedy but now returns bent on his own revenge, accompanied by the play's one calm character, Strophius (Martin Turner).

That just leaves Natasha Broomfield as emollient sister Chrysothemis and little Fern Deacon expertly playing a younger Electra and singing some lovely, haunting Tom Mills-composed duets with her older self.

Nick Payne has written a tough modern version of the tragedy that has poetic moments and maintains pace throughout. On this occasion, it is the powerful images, generally viewed through symbolic murk, that will probably remain in the mind longer than the story. One minor point is that anyone who is not already steeped in Greek myth might struggle to follow the plotting and history at times.

Brave Cath Whitefield puts her nails and probably fingers at risk in digging up a grave, pulling the stage apart literally with her bare hands and a lot of muscle power.

This becomes the focus of a very bloody and thankfully barely lit scene as the play's sad, vengeful climax is achieved, leaving the audience in stunned silence.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher