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Electra at The Old Vic

Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra provides the Old Vic with a compelling and thoroughly memorable opening to its new season.

This is a terse, modern and absorbing interpretation of Sophocles’ tale of revenge and woe in which Frank McGuinness manages to adapt the story in combining the essence and horror of Greek tragedy with a modern twist.

Scott Thomas is reunited with Ian Rickson who directs a version of events which has you riveted from the start in a perfectly understandable way because Electra really is mad.

It took me quite some time to work out how the Old Vic had been so magnificently turned into a Round for this production. It has been cleverly done and the proximity of the audience to the action gives added dramatic impact to every twist and turn.

Greek tragedies are picture frames in which an individual can showcase their acting prowess and there is no doubt who is in the frame here.

Kirstin Scott Thomas wallows deeply in the darkness of Electra’s pain. Every sinew, scar and searing cry comes from within. This is torment personified and it is not easy on the eye.

The desire to avenge her father’s murder is not just deep rooted. Electra persistently swings from one extreme gesture – to another deep cry for justice.

The madness, rooted in a single goal of seeing her mother and step father pay for their crimes is just about pulled off. Occasionally, you sense the audience wanting her to move on from agonising to “getting the deed done”. But wallowing in miserable madness is plainly what Sophocles intended. There is nothing that the god Apollo can do.

Electra’s madness is not feigned. Like a female Hamlet, she is deeply troubled and perspective is out of the window. The audience are left in no doubt that this woman is in the deepest of darkness.

Diana Quick steps up well as [mother] Clytemnestra and Liz White is a reassuringly sensible[sister] Chrysothemis.

Electra’s brother, Orestes is given charm and swashbuckling qualities by Jack Lowden and he combines well with Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthusa who is no stranger to the Old Vic stage. Huggins has the longest and, to some extent, the most important speech of the night to make and he delivers it well.

The climax of the play, without spoiling it for those who don’t know how such a terrible chain of events unfolds, is messy and bloody.

I don’t think I was the only one who was thinking of people in the headlines recently who have lost their lives with bare hands through extremely violent acts in the name of revenge. This is murder by the most savage of acts and we witness it very closely and uncomfortably in the Round.

The set is plain and simple but does the trick, complete with its Thames Water dripping tap (surely representing a running spring in ancient Greece).The costumes are a weird mixture of traditional and modern.

But at the end of a relatively short production, played without an interval, there is really only one headline from this latest quality Old Vic offering. That, of course, is the triumphant return of Kristin Scott Thomas to the London stage. She is truly wonderful.

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