DumbWise Theatre bring Greek tragedy right up to date, as John Ward’s new adaptation of the Sophocles & Euripedes classics comes to the stage. It continues the Spring Season at The Bunker with a bang, as punk spirit collides with ancient history to tell a very modern story – an epic that echoes our own disillusionment & discontent.
For years Argos has been ruled over by an “unappointed commander-in-chief”, Aegisthus, who seized power alongside the former king’s wife (Clytemnestra) – Agamemnon had been off fighting in a foreign war for quite some time, but before doing so had done something his wife found impossible to forgive: he sacrificed their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods to help in his war effort. In spite of this, Electra (another daughter of Agamemnon) still idolises her dead father and has sworn to take revenge on her mother and step-father. She contents herself with small acts of rebellion for a while, as she believes her brother will return to save her; she had previously smuggled him away as a small child to prevent Aegisthus from killing him and ending the family line. Clytemnestra finds a way of silencing her, but is that the end of Electra’s story?
Ward’s adaptation is set against a backdrop of unrest; the people are tired of living under a ruler who has brought them nothing but poverty and diminishing opportunities, with “the few claiming to act for the many”. The influence of our own political climate is clear for even the least aware to see, as Generation X, the economy, and a foreign war instigated for selfish means all get noted. Not to mention how Theresa May-esque Clytemnestra becomes when she invites a TV crew into her home… These points & parallels can be quite ‘in your face’, but it does nothing to detract from the core plot – and the play’s brashness serves as a reminder of the punk movement that swelled in the UK during the late 70s. As Brexit and a squeezing Tory government transport us back 40 years, perhaps it’s productions like this that are the answer.
What really makes the show buzz is the music. It’s there almost constantly, like an additional character in its own right, with a range of instruments put to creative use: violin bows employed on guitars, a synth soundscape and feedback, for starters. Throbbing drumbeats up the ante, and some extraordinary vocals from Sian Martin & Megan Leigh Mason add an extra dimension. The act one closing number stands out in my mind, first entrancing and then rousing the audience as Electra faces an uncertain future.
Samuel Wilde’s set lays everything bare on a dirty, dusty square performance space, instruments at each corner and some arresting tubular lights at the very back of the stage. Sherry Coenen’s lighting design works perfectly with this setup, the strip lights providing much of the atmosphere (the bloody red that symbolises death is especially striking) – and there’s an intriguing touch as some table lamps set amongst the audience light up at various stages.
Having a group of actor-musicians injects an extra bit of dynamism; the energy of live musical performance is key in a production of this nature. As the sincere & god-fearing Orestes, Dario Coates gives a compelling performance – his rallying cry to the audience as he accepts his task of vengeance makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. His dilemma over what should happen to Clytemnestra is affecting, as Coates shows him grappling with natural affection, a god’s decree & Electra’s murderous temptation.
Lydia Larson is simply electric in the title role. Electra is a rebel, of that there is no doubt, as she snarls at her family & refuses to conform – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t vulnerable. Larson portrays her as incredibly strong-willed (even when she’s seemingly been ‘domesticated’), although as she talks to her “daddy” there’s a clear glimpse of the other side of her personality. Her final moments actually become quite heartbreaking, as her hysterical glee at the bloodshed turns to uncertainty – even with her final words: “the revolution belongs to me”.
My verdict? Ancient Greece & punk collide to make an inspiring piece of theatre, performed with heart & spirit – a real call to arms!
Electra runs at The Bunker Theatre until 24 March 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.