Review: Electra (starring Kristin Scott Thomas) at the Old Vic theatre

Electra Old Vic posterIt took me a long time to decide what I wanted to say about the Old Vic production of Sophocles’ Electra, directed by Ian Rickson. My lack of clarity is mostly because I wanted to like it more than I did. It gets many things right, it has integrity, it has a strong character. Still it never caught fire in my imagination.

Sophocles’ Electra is a simple story, at least when it comes to plot. Without giving much away, Electra waits for someone, unlike Godot he arrives. Much of the play it’s people describing what happened, either in the distant or recent past. What happened is important to them, to the point of risking their lives and their future. It’s linked to values and the gods and a changing world. At its best it’s ideas grabbing people by the throat.

Electra is a complicated character and 2500 years since the play was written have added layers of ambiguity. She is strong and determined, unwavering, fanatical. She is also committed to patriarchical values: she takes her father’s side and defends the values he represents. (Agamemnon – although murdered – is far from an innocent victim. He tricked his wife into sacrificing their daughter, then went to war for ten years and expected that his wife would stay behind and wait for him). Were these values unambiguous for audiences two millenia ago? If so, they aren’t any more.

The first time we see Kristin Scott Thomas, her hair is hidden under a scarf, giving her face the appearance of a skull. Continue reading

Review: Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida theatre

Lesley Manville as Helene Alving and Jack Lowden as Oswald Alving.  Photo Hugo Glendinning

Lesley Manville as Helene Alving and Jack Lowden as Oswald Alving. Photo Hugo Glendinning

Between new plays and Shakespeare performed in modern dress, it seems it’s only the late nineteenth century playwrights who are performed in period setting any more (the odd production by Benedict Andrews notwithstanding). All joking aside, there is a special challenge – but also revelation – when the period setting comes alive to carry the heart of the play in a timeless way.

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida, adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, is such a pleasure. The story of a family in the course of an evening, when five people are connected in different – sometime unexpected – ways and the ghosts of the past strangle the present. It’s not other people’s but one’s choices that haunt the play. And that ultimate crime of all, to be untrue to one’s self.

The production has simplicity and confidence and a rare unhurried richness. Set and lighting are grave but not dour. If joy is in short supply in this place, it is vividly suggested that it lives elsewhere and people can – and should – find it for the salvation of their souls. The wood and glass and tapestry of the set are like a magic mirror – unbearable one moment, warm and comforting the next. Continue reading