Elektra | Fraught OutfitPhoto - Richie Lipp

Elektra has been grieving for a very long time. In some ways you’d hope that she’d come to terms with the death of her father, Agamemnon at the hands of her mother, Clytemnestra, but you know that she never will. This production translated by Anne Carson takes liberties with Sophocles original, but in a way that makes the script accessible and steers it away from the formality that often overshadows traditional renderings of this story.

Elektra (Zahra Newman) dominates the stage both physically and emotionally as she rails against the world she finds herself in. She is aided and abetted in this, by the one woman chorus (Karen Sibbing) who vocalises many of the thoughts that we as an audience are thinking. Elektra is also supported loosely by her sister Chrysothemis (Luisa Hastings Edge) and holds out hope that their brother Orestes (Gary Abrahams) who she helped spirit away with loyal servant Pedagogus (Josh Price) will one day return to avenge the death of their father. Yet all of Elektra’s grief, anger and petty manipulations are clearly overshadowed by the power wielded by her mother, the Queen Clytemnestra (Jane Montgomery Griffiths).

This is a slick production, perhaps too slick, with its intentionally oppressive set by Eugyeene Teh and grating score by Kelly Ryall. Director Adena Jacobs is clinical in her execution of the play, carefully contriving to create every moment and while it looks flawless, the effect leaves you cold and unmoved. The performers are all excellent technicians, very capable of creating images in space and delivering their lines without fault, and a few - Karen Sibbing, Josh Price and at times the chilling Jane Montgomery Griffiths - are truly effective.

However Zahra Newman as Elektra is whining and unsympathetic, partly through her style of performance and partly as a result of the character she is playing. Elektra as a character is frustrating, eternally doomed to be beating her chest in grief and lamenting the fact that she is not a man and cannot avenge her father’s death. For some reason performers (and Newman’s interpretation is no different) always seem to overplay the grief and cast it as melodrama, overshadowing just how manipulative and adept Elektra truly is. Elektra is successfully organising events around her (even if doesn’t first appear that way) so that her retribution may come to pass, but this production misses this point.

Gary Abrahams as Orestes gives a wooden performance, and there is great difficulty believing that he is a man capable of murdering his mother, because although he has the physical prowess, he seems to lack the emotional fortitude. The greatest shame is that Chrysothemis (Luisa Hastings Edge), the most sympathetic of the siblings, is left with so little to do in this translation, and her only function seems to be to shift the action along, rather than have an emotional journey of her own.

However by far the greatest disappointment of this production is that while it may be technically brilliant in its staging and theatrical execution; in its emotional impact it is as dead as Agamemnon. The production tries very hard to elicit emotions from the audience, using a variety of techniques, including nudity and other techniques designed to shock. And though the actors certainly go through the motions of ‘emoting’, it all seems to have very little impact. This is because the performers do not at any time attempt to invite the audience into the world that they are creating. It is as if they are performing the play for themselves, and we as an audience are incidental to the whole experience. This is a shame because it makes for a numb, emotionally detached night at the theatre.

One final note if you are easily offended by nudity on stage then perhaps you should avoid this production. The nudity seen here is largely exploitative and designed to be shocking, however on the whole it seems unnecessary and detracts from the power of the story.

In closing Elektra can be recommended as a technically brilliant production but at its heart it is emotionally dead.


Fraught Outfit present
ELEKTRA
Adapted by Anne Carson after Sophocles

Directed by Adena Jacobs

Venue: The Dog Theatre | 42a Albert St Footscray
Dates: 1 - 18 December 2010
Times: 8pm Wed - Sat
Matinees: 1pm Sat 11/12, 18/12
Tickets: $25/$20 conc
Bookings: www.thedogtheatre.com