Everyone’s suffered through Sophokles at some point in their school life. Only very few will have liked his plays. I certainly didn’t.
If you have the chance to see Elektra in Stratford/Ontario, take it and go see it. Not only is there an outstanding female cast that draws you in, it’s particularly the way they dealt with the chorus that made me forget I had no luggage and the jetlag from hell.
The story is well known, of course: Elektra is the only one refusing to forget what her mother, the queen, and her lover, now king, Aigisthos, had done: They’d slain Agamemnon together, out of revenge because Agamemnon had been ordered to kill Iphigenie as an offering to the gods, in order to sail to Troy.
For Elektra, her father’s deed, the killing of her sister, was just tho, as it was ordered by the gods. Very much unlike the murder of her father, undertaken by her mother whose motives were not just revenge for a dead daughter but also the urge to be with her new lover, Aigisthos.
And so – even 10 years later – she calls for revenge, makes mourning her life, as she isn’t able to take initiative and do something herself. Even though the choir tries to placate her – and brilliantly so, all rhythm and wordplay, clapping, slapping, tapping, a stomping beat that almost hypnotizes everyone with its steady drum, almost like a heartbeat, a lifeline Elektra doesn’t want to grasp.
It is her brother Orestes she puts all her hope in. Her brother whom she rescued after her father’s murder and sent him away to safety. Her brother who, she is sure, has to be sure to survive, will one day avenge the brutal slaying of her father.
And then it is reported her brother died. In a carriage race he was killed while winning. And while her mother is rejoicing because her only enemy is now out of the way, Elektra is almost catatonic with grief. Her only hope is gone. she will never have the chance to avenge her father – as a woman, that chance was almost nil anyway, and it is definitely gone now.
But when life seems most tragic, there’s a silver lining: Orestes had made up the story of his death. He is already at the temple, reconciling with his sister and planning his revenge. A revenge that seems almost anticlimactic: he kills his mother in her rooms, then waits for Aigisthos to show up and has the drunken, screaming man dragged out to be killed, too. The huge palace doors shut. Elektra is outside again – outside of the revenge she had lived for. Outside of the world she has no chance of joining after the decade of mourning. Outside. And the chorus whispers in a beat that’s slowly petering out: she is at the end of her journey…
Where indeed could Elektra go from there…
As I said: brilliantly played by Yanna McIntosh as Elektra, (she almost never leaves the stage), Laura Condlln and Seana McKenna as Clytemnestra, a pragmatic and calculating woman with her best interests in mind. Ian Lake as Orestes is sufficiently blood thirsty and at one point even almost drunk on power and blood, a scary sight. Add to that Graham Abbey as Aigisthos, who gives a drunken upstart, brainless but driven to power, and cast and play are perfectly suited for each other.The chorus tho is something very special. spoken by women and on occasion by a man, it takes up the rhythm of a single tap tap tap with a glass staff or a hand to turn it into a riveting malstroem of power. Amazing. Chilling. And brilliant.