Elektra engagement

Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

March 3 – 13

A blackout beginning and suspenseful soundscape appropriately heightens audience senses towards The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra”. The dialogue of the retitled “Elektra/Orestes” also aptly begins with words in plea to the gods. They come from Elektra (Violette Ayad), a loud and passionate young woman of grand statements and drama in the search for answers. 

In modernisation of the well-known Greek tragedy, playwrights Jada Alberts and Anne Louise have the characters speaking in modern language, complete with swearing, that from the show’s opening minutes, establishes Elektra’s feelings about and to mother as she repeatedly vows to wait for her brother’s return. As Elektra is joined on stage by her sister Kyrsothemis (Tatum Mottin) and mother Klytemnestra (Caroline Dunphy), it is obvious that this is a family that has suffered a tragedy that all of its members are grieving independently.

The volatile Elektra is clearly disgusted with her mother and over time we realise the reason why she seethes with anger and vengeance as she blasts her music louder and waits impatiently for her brother Orestes (Tate Hinchy) to return from exile. Orestes was sent away to safety years earlier after Klytemnestra killed her husband Agamenmon. In the meantime, mother of the household and ruler of the people Clytemnestra has taken on a lover, the now-king Aigisthus (Marcus Oborn), who is secretly conducting an affair with Krysothemis. So when Orestes re-enters their lives to enact his forceful revenge, there is an excess of emotion that arises from conflicted loyalties.  

While the story is capably realised in and of itself, The Hive Collective have elevated its achievement through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where, like in Tom Stoppard’s absurdist “Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, events occur in complement to the onstage action. Even without knowledge of this structure, there is much anticipation during the required mid-show choreographed set reconstruction, which is only enhanced by Julian Starr’s vivid, atmospheric sound design fevering forebodingly to crescendo. And as we are shown this complementary other side to the story, we see some Brechtian theatre traditions as performers remain side of stage, re-contributing their initial dialogue from behind microphone stands. It is all very interesting in the way that rewarding theatre should be.

Ayad gives Elektra the passionate intensity required, however, even when lamenting, the larger-than-life character has the potential to suck all the air from the room in that Shrew-esque sort of way and Mottin stands alongside her in good stead in early scenes where she is being questioned as to her loyalty and want of a morning of a normality. And Dunphy gives Klytemnestra a strength beyond her early political rhetoric-themed dialogue and flashes of humanising vulnerability in later interactions with her son.

“Elektra/Orestes” is brutal but exciting theatre that easily engages its audience members, as evidenced by their sometimes audible exclamations and physical reactions. While its modern language may cause some comically jarring tonal shifts which detract from its essential drama, its dilemmas around justice, revenge and the if you should remain silent about things that matter to you, still resonate strongly.