Review: Waiting For Orestes: Electra, Kings Theatre

Tadashi Suzuki, the notable Japanese director and founder of the Suzuki Company of Toga, is given a rare presentation of his theatre work as part of the Edinburgh International Festival with Waiting for Orestes: Electra. Using the stripped down adaption of Electra by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, this minimal and stark performance gets to the heart of Electra’s plight against her mother to avenge her father with the hope of the return of her brother Orestes. Transposing this Greek tale to a mental hospital, the Chorus becomes inmates, pushed in wheelchairs with nurses in white uniforms, Clytemnestra reigning over all. Electra, silent and still is locked inside this hellhole, is waiting to be set free.

The piece, accompanied by percussionist Midori Takada and directed with stillness and precision from Suzuki, is a feat of Japanese concentration and commitment from the ensemble. Takada’s percussion becomes the rhythm of the piece, underlining the word with beat and crash of symbol. Whilst Hofmannsthal’s adaption is stripped to essential plot points, Suzuki’s direction fills these moments with intense and at times dense performances from the ensemble. Whether it is a procession of wheelchairs or the elongated screech of despair from Electra, Suzuki’s direction forces its way to the audience.

Yoo-Jeong Byun’s Electra is catlike, her body hunched to the floor ready to pounce upon her mother’s dominating stand that rules over her. Regardless of Clytemnestra’s (Chieko Naito) health – we’re told her body is falling apart – her reign stands complete, her snarling voice pronounces authority with every word. The Chorus, however, combine both narration of story as well as the voices of Electra and Orestes, as if their inner turmoils are too hard to speak of themselves. Later, words fail altogether and are replaced by spine tingling screeches of a primal nature.

The production works best when it plays upon the torment that is locked inside the unspoken words of the performers. Like any Greek drama, we don’t witness Clytemnestra’s death, but her blood-curdling scream provides enough for us to build a picture in our minds. Relying upon basics of storytelling, Suzuki’s Waiting for Orestes: Electra is bold and full of power, digging deep into the heart of Greek tragedy, and twisting the brutal knife repeatedly.

Waiting for Orestes: Electra is playing at King’s Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival until 13 August. For more information see their website.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.