Although this production is called Orestes, it should really be called Electra as a credit to the astounding performance that Mairead McKinley gives in Shared Experiences take on this tale of matricide, revenge and betrayal in ancient Greece.
Euripdes’ tragedy is reworked by Helen Edmundson (of Coram Boy fame) and we pick the story up just after Orestes and Electra, the children of Agamemnon, have murdered their mother, Clytemnestra for having an affair and killing their father. Alex Robinson’s Orestes is driven psychotic by his guilt all the while insisting that Apollo drove him to avenge his father’s death.
The citizens of Argos are out for Orestes blood and so he begs his uncle Menelaos to defend him but Menelaos backs out of this pact to assuage the mob and so Orestes is again driven to unleash his murderous passions. Electra, Orestes’ sister stands dutifully by him throughout and is also the mouth piece for the less than edifying message this play sends.
Driven by the visionary Nancy Meckler, this production is very much a play for our time living as we do in a climate where killers also cite their Gods as they go to battle and detonate bombs. It also speaks poignantly about the cycle of revenge and the chain of death which link one generation to the next to create dynasties of hatred, something echoed most fully in Electra’s doleful cry “we did not begin this” – a statement which could find resonance anywhere from Palestine to Sadr City.
The nature of justice and the rule of law is also explored in this production an issue made all the more relevant as it opened at Kilburns Tricycle Theatre in the same week that Saddam Hussein was sentenced and the progeny and purpose of that court where held up for close scrutiny. Electra standing up to her grandfather claims that the law he enforces can be blown and bent by the breadth of angry people and so revealing the leverage that power and personality can have on supposedly impartial judicial systems.
Despite bringing forth extremely timely essential truths this production felt static. All the action was set in the siblings chamber and the long chunks of dialogue felt laboured and overly didactic. You also never got a sense of the deadly intent and political corruption throbbing through Argos or the mob justice that this brother and sister duo faced. Alex Robinsons Orestes also seemed a little lacking in focus and was entirely outshone by the brilliance of Mairead McKinleys impassioned, fiesty and insightful portrayl of Electra.
Helen Edmundson, admits that she has played fast and loose with Euripides version of Orestes, which means there is no Apollo to swing down from the heavens in the final scene to put the world to rights and save Helen and Hermione from Orestes. While this would have provided a ludicrously happy ending to this blood soaked tale, Edmundsons choice of ending even though it came complete with fire and dramatically shifting scenery felt slightly flat, unfinished and comedic.
Shared Experience is without doubt a magnificent company, and bringing alive this little performed tragedy will make audiences all the more aware of the dysfunction and humanity that lie at the heart of politico-judicial systems.