Theatre, Drama
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 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Kristin Scott Thomas (Electra)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Kristin Scott Thomas (Electra)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Kristin Scott Thomas (Electra)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Kristin Scott Thomas (Electra) and Jack Lowden (Orestes)

Kristin Scott Thomas is a greasy, bedraggled, unhinged and blood-spattered mess of a woman as Sophocles's angry heroine Electra in Ian Rickson's new production

Kristin Scott Thomas’s stage career to date – heck, as far as I’m aware, her entire acting career to date – has revolved around performances of poised froideur, icy detachment and immaculate chicness. So what a change of gear ‘Electra’ makes, as her regular director Ian Rickson makes his lead blub and grub in the dirt, a greasy, bedraggled, unhinged and blood-spattered mess of a woman.

That is not to say there’s none of the familiar Scott Thomas backbone to her take on Sophocles’s Electra, a daughter gripped by a furious – if complicated – desire to take revenge on her mother Clytemnestra for the murder of her father, Agamemnon. But if Electra is one of the few great Greek heroines to neither kill or be killed, Rickson – abetted by Frank McGuinness’s harsh translation – makes sure we see the stains on her soul.

Her performance is a study in anguish, her voice loud, harsh, and raw as she screams her grief at the death of her father and the (erroneously reported) demise of her beloved brother Orestes. But her confrontation with Diana Quick’s Clytemnestra is charged less with hatred, more the ferocious petulance of a spurned child. Though Electra resolves to commit matricide shortly before Orestes turns up, you wonder if she really would have gone through with it – one senses her boiling rage is the equivalent of the little girl shrieking ‘I hate you!’ at her mum. There’s definitely something Hamlet-like to her Electra, a woman waiting and waiting and waiting for her revenge until it finally happens at dizzying speed and you wonder if it’s what she really wanted.

Most of the other roles are virtual cameos, but largely very good ones – Diana Quick impresses, with a hint of a loving mother’s exasperation beneath her steely pragmatism; young Jack Lowden offers genuine relief as a sweet Orestes; and there is something naggingly upsetting about the casting of black actor Tyrone Huggins as Clytemnestra’s new husband Aegisthus – one wonders if on some level it is his otherness that has brought down the wrath of his step children.

Rickson’s production does feel in need of more light and shade – it kind of batters you for 100 minutes and then suddenly fades. More prosaically, there are some pretty ropey sight lines for those sitting near the front of the in-the-round auditorium (I’d sit at least five rows back). But it’s unquestionably another solid link in the Old Vic’s 2014 renaissance, a tremendously visceral and wholly uncompromising exploration of emotional pain.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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5 people listening

The performance was excellent.  However, whilst the cast were taking applause Kristen Scott Thomas singled out a member of the audience in the front row and abused them, shaking her fingers and generally expressing her anger.  It seems that the person concerned had coughed during the performance.  This was not Kristen's finest hour. Live theatre includes a live audience.  This was diva behaviour and did not go down well with those of us who noticed it.

Totally over acted, awkward stage positions , overall not the best performance i've ever seen. 

Just in from seeing this tonight.  Thought it was incredibly powerful. Kristen Scott Thomas and the rest of the cast were excellent.  The production is stripped back and it feels very raw but that all worked for me. Recommended. 

Wholly disappointing. A poor performance from Scott Thomas whose sarcastic tone and lack of depth had the full house whopping with laughter especially at the supposedly dramatic end. A surreal experience which turned this Greek tragedy into a comedy. A poor night at the Old Vic.

I've just seen it an hour ago and have to say it was an embarrassingly bad performance. The main character is shallow as a puddle and the whole show lacks drama insomuch that the audience laughs as soon as Electra says something sarcastic. One of the best Greek tragedies turned into soap opera.