Yanna McIntosh as pictured as Elektra with members of the company in Elektra. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
ElektraStratford Shakespeare Festival
Written by Sophokles
Translated by Anne Carson
Directed by Thomas Moschopoulos
Choreography by Amalia Bennett
Tom Patterson Theatre
Written by Geoff Dale
This review can also be found online at: the beat magazine
Rhythmic, pulsating, percussive and hard-wired are hardly the words that would jump to mind when describing the standard university study of any Greek tragedy – even the powerful Elektra.
Yet that’s the way one has to view the riveting production of this rendering of Elektra currently on stage at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Tom Patterson Theatre. Translated by Anne Carson in a sometimes earthy yet profoundly poetic manner and authoritatively directed by Thomas Moschopoulos, the last production unveiled for the 60th season is arguably one of the most fascinating.
Anyone the least bit acquainted with Greek mythology could trot out the perfunctory details of what playwright Sophokles is saying in a sentence or two. Elektra (Yanna McIntosh) has been incessantly mourning the murder of her father Agamemnon at the hands of her treacherous social-climbing stepmother Clytemestra (Seanna McKenna) and her lover Aigisthos (Graham Abbey).
Although close to terminal despair, she still holds out a glimmer of hope that her brother Orestes (Ian Lake) will come home to help her avenge their father’s death. Unknown to her, he has indeed arrived back from Phocis, where he was raised by King Strophius. An Old Man (Peter Hutt) appears on the scene and, as part of a plot to kill the queen, tells all that Orestes was killed in a chariot race.
That’s the plot.
The beauty of this production is the spellbinding manner in which it is presented, culminating in a tasty feast for the eyes and ears.
The marvelously talented McIntosh, with her uncanny ability to switch at will from spoken word to song, brings enormous energy and heart-rending passion to the lead role, appearing almost as a force-of-nature. McKenna is delightfully snarly as the ultimate regal bitch, accompanied in fine form by her posing partner-in-crime Abbey.
Hutt delivers powerful speeches with elegance and grace and, like many of his theatrical counterparts, has a keen sense of the beat that drives this production.
In spite of what the uniformly excellent acting company offers up, the real delight of the production is watching and listening to the contributions of the gifted chorus of women, the collective intermediary – between the on-stage characters and the audience – that plays out its role in Greek mythology with haunting chants and mesmerizing rhythms periodically beaten on the tables and ground.
Forgiving the odd misplaced beat or so, the chorus of seven actresses is in many instances the entity keeping the audience transfixed, figuratively glued to the words and deeds of the main characters and the plot pitting wronged siblings, Elektra, Orestes and Chrysothemis (Laura Conklin) against the personification of pure evil Clytemestra and Aigisthos.
One can see such a tantalizing translation of a traditional Greek myth like this being greeted with open arms back in the free-spirited, anything-goes atmosphere of the Swingin’ 60s but this is a full four decades later and a somewhat more conservative time. What a marvelous breath of fresh air Elektra is to both actors and audiences alike.
Elektra provides 95-minutes of interrupted theatrical magic, earning a full four of four ****.
Runs until September 29
Approximate running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or online www.stratfordfestival.ca