Electra is a bloody family saga that sprawls decades. It has all the tropes of Greek Tragedy: murder, power, royals, estrangement, cruelty… This bold adaptation intends to reinvigorate the form, through both punk-rock scoring and by “championing dynamic dialogue over long exposition”. It bursts onto the brilliant Bunker stage – formerly an underground carpark – with striking images and choral orchestrations. These soon splutter out, however, and the following two hours feel staggered rather than astounding.
Fundamentally there are issues to take with the modernisation. There seems no consistency. There’s a television studio, but people still rely on messengers not Messenger. And whilst some of the themes ring true to the present day – austerity, social inequality etc. – by keeping the focus firmly placed on the monarchy, the audience are again kept at arm’s length.
The “revolutionary context” is nothing but – literally – a backing track (and some nicely choreographed dance-fights) with which the audience never much engages.
The show’s direction has flashes of real excitement, especially in moments that layer sound and or music with movement and action. However, the production as a whole feels uneven. An opening dance and vocal arrangement sets a scene that is never returned to. Long periods without such flare become tiresome. It’s an epic story, but one often told without vitality, making the events feel disproportionate to proceedings.
Lydia Larson, who starred in the hugely well-received Skin A Cat also at the Bunker, plays a petulant Electra. Dario Coates and Matt Brewer give solid performances as Orestes and Aegisthus respectively, whilst Sian Martin’s sly and certain Clytemnestra is a secret scene stealer.
The chorus – played by Dean Graham, Samuel Martin and Megan Leigh Mason – are charming. The entire cast are highly-skilled musicians and their best work occurs when both music and action are allowed to merge and confer.
Sam Wilde’s design is compelling: beautiful, dirty, dystopic and versatile. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is a feeling. Sherry Coenen’s lighting is simple and playful, engaging the audience and inviting them into the narrative.
Electra feels long, yet leaves little to be said. It lacks oomph, chutzpah and other great sounding words you want from epic, twisted and tragic tales – especially ones ‘daringly reinvented’ or ‘radically modernised’. In some moments, it really flies – but for most, it coasts just above ground.