Electra, the hubris, the British

After having watched over my Facebook friends cultural trips to London and, particularly, to the Old Vic, I have been longing to see one of these lovely plays myself. I failed to do so on the occasion of Kevin Spacey's Clarence Darrow, which produced me great sorrow. And then I saw Kristin Scott Thomas's name on the announcement of Sophocle's Electra and I said to myself this is it, not a reparation, but rather a great occasion in itself.

I must have already confessed my interest in Greek mithology, my fascination with antic tragedies, my readings about the hubris, my cult for the subconscious. Therefore Electra was the perfect occasion, especially when played by the magnificent Kristin Scott Thomas, whom I've always admired (more about this one in a separate post).

When we were in front of the theatre, we had just separated from some great friends we had not seen for years so I had good reasons to be a bit sad and yet I was giggling with enthusiasm. Some of you might comment upon the fact that this was so provincial. I give you that...

The scene is round and surrounded by spectators. The hall is not very big which enhances contact between the artists and the public. The minimal scenography consisting of a tree and some huge antic villa doors promised a great deal. It's in front of those doors and near that tree that Electra goes out day by day to cry for the loss of her father, Agamemnon, killed by her mother, Clytemnestra and the mother's lover, now turned king. It's in front of those doors and near that tree that Electra rages against her brother's absence and vows to help him, once back, to achieve revenge. She is full of rage and deeply convincing. A physically absent Electra that devotes entirely to her aching soul. A young woman with no man to marry and no kids to bear as the new king fears a potential revenge from Agamemnon's grandchildren. A daughter painfully hating her mother as the actor of a vicious crime.

And then, once here, there is no place Ian Rickson, the play's director, takes us to... He simply did not imagine any variation of the intensity of the feelings, he did not give the actor space or directions to perform anything else. Once the rage was on, it stayed on until the end of the play. Except for some British humor here and there that was actually funny...it's just that it dramatically decreased tension making impossible for us to concentrate again and return to grief. Clytemnestra's speech, while perfectly convincing, was not allowed to seed any doubt in Electra's heart.. There was no duality or pain or complicity in Electra's attempt to persuade her sister in being more of her side. There was no dispair when the news of Oreste's death arose (we knew it was not true since the beginning of the play but Electra did not). She went on in rage and sorrow, over and over again. 

At this point, one middle-age nicely dressed lady in the front row fell asleep for a few seconds and I took my distance from the play to watch the spectators...

 Kristin Scott Thomas's performance is demanding and intense but with very few variation from one side to another. As if nothing happened... Not even when she finally meets Orestes, not even then are we allowed to cry, to involve, to feel, to love.

I am not sure if it was a British (i.e distant, polite) interpretation of a tragedy or it was simply Ian Rickson's inability to deal with this text. I read he achieved wonderful things when directing Thomas in Chekhov’s “The Seagull” or in Pinter's "Old Times". But here I was deceived... I remembered the simphony of emotions and heartbeats when I left the theatre in Sibiu, in april 2013, after Purcarete's Gulliver's Travels and I got invaded with regrets that here I was feeling nothing of the kind. I would not be able to get home and say Wonderful! Incredible! Excrutiating! I was left only with the joy of having seen live a great actress, a great performer.