Blossom Durr portrays the titular ElectraEmery Glas (edited by Natina Rose) with permission for Varsity

While we might instinctively pigeonhole Ancient Greek tragedies as remote and inaccessible relics of a bygone era, our contemporary moment is actually intimately intertwined with the theatrical world of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Due to centuries of writers and scholars reinterpreting and reanimating this fecund archive, inherited fragments of Athenian drama continue to haunt and texture our day-to-day experiences. Irisa Kwok’s Electra : Haimara is the most recent instalment of our persistent theatrical memory. This adaptation of the Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, is a production at once unnerving and seductive.

“The characters harbour ugly and extreme emotions”

Directed by the exacting eye of Natina Rose, Electra : Haimara creatively experiments with its Greek source material, stretching and speculating upon well-trodden terrain to produce theatre that is novel and strange. Kwok ventures beyond the sexist tropes which have plagued reimaginations of Electra — Freud’s notorious ‘Electra complex’, for one, plants the figure at the centre of a claustrophobic, heteronormative drama of endless lust for the patriarch. In contrast, Kwok’s Electra is not a victim of her sexuality. Her desires are not divinely predetermined, but unravel in mysterious, ambivalent ways. Costume designer Madinah Ghafoor adorns the audacious Furies in beautiful garbs of cascading, blushing pink. Eliza Harrison, Catherine Wray and Mia Glencrose are majestic and unsettling as these deities of vengeance, stalking and taunting their cast members with playful glee. They encircle an obsessive and ruminating Electra, brought alive by Blossom Durr, who earnestly commits to years of lonely mourning for her father Agamemnon.

“Durr’s performance expertly balances confession and concealment”

Durr’s Electra is at once violently vengeful and steadfastly repressed. She is a heroine of wayward, unconventional temporalities. In an affront to prescribed narratives of gender and grief, Electra remains unmarried and unwaveringly angry in the wake of her father’s death and her brother’s disappearance, refusing the social dictum to move on, even if it’ll kill her. Swearing murderous revenge against her mother and Aegisthus for killing her father, Electra resists her family’s attempts to gaslight her into forgetfulness. Despite the repeated pleas of her mother and sister to play happy families, her protracted brooding will not be pacified. Through her incantatory soliloquies and spectacular revenge, Electra insists upon externalising her internal hellscape, rendering her solitary darkness ultimately contagious. Despite all this, however, there is an element of mystery that she still somehow retains. Durr’s performance expertly balances confession and concealment, unbridled rage and secrecy, refusing to render Electra’s machinations fully articulate.

Electra’s brother, Orestes, tenderly played by Rob Monteiro, is similarly haunted and burdened by the inherited blood curse that plagues their family. The wandering, exiled brother is uncomfortable with their role as avenger; as soon as they return home to Mycenae, the elusive Orestes longs to be elsewhere, frequently alluding to blissful snapshots of queer memory with their partner Pylades. Kwok’s innovative fleshing out of the conventional hero is refreshing and exciting. The audience gains a brief glimpse into the private intimacy that exists between the two figures, yet there is a tragic sense that belonging and security are merely wistful memories for Orestes, who is trapped by the play’s claustrophobic teleology of masculinity and revenge. For Orestes, like Electra, peace is a deferred, intangible fantasy, forever exceeding their reach.


Mountain View

A bold and daring adaptation of 'Electra'

The characters harbour ugly and extreme emotions, and inevitably, there are moments of Electra : Haimara that fall short of moving an audience who might be resistant to alien material. Electra repeatedly berates and monsterises the sexuality of her mother, Clytemnestra, in cataclysmic arguments which sometimes feel inhuman and unnatural. Whilst Maya Calcraft is devastating in her final scene, the play was at its best when its cast outgrew the caricatured moulds of heroes and villains, and I often found it difficult to empathise with the archetypal figure of damned, wretched motherhood that Clytemnestra sometimes became.

The final sequence of the play was one of the most daring and impressive I have witnessed in Cambridge theatre, as director Rose constructs a disturbing, visual parallelism between an act of sex and an act of murder. Such violent and visceral embodiments share the stage in a cacophonous and uncanny blend, as sounds of pleasure mutate and echo into screams of pain. Rose and Kwok construct an unsettling tableaux of eros and thanatos which resists immediate interpretation. Audiences aren’t able to extract pre-packaged meaning from this enigmatic scene, which is an erotic spectacle as well as a private recoil of shame. The stage becomes a matrix of entangled limbs, as an act of abusive, alienated sex occurs concurrently with the final, confused caress of mother and son. Indeed, the nonverbal language of corporeality seems to be best suited to manifesting the strange confluences of desire, regret and longing which Electra : Haimara trafficks in. Afterwards, Kwok and Rose allow the ghostly movements of ballet to take centre stage, when language fails to temper the pain of grief. The production climaxed as smoke submerged the spectral contours of a lone dancer (portrayed by Kwok), whose shadowy embodiment seemed to speak for the unabated sorrow of Electra.

Electra : Haimara is showing at the ADC Theatre from Wednesday 3rd May to Saturday 6th May, 11:00pm.