I always knew Kristin Scott Thomas was a good actress, I just wasn’t aware how good. That became apparent on seeing her electrifying Electra in Ian Rickson’s production at The Old Vic. The third in this season of plays in the round at this wonderfully adaptable theatre, is the icing on an exceptional cake.
The expectation that a great evening awaits, is there as soon one enters the auditorium and sees Mark Thompson’s stark set with a free standing tap the only hint of any human activity. The tree planted on the barren dusty floor is dead and the huge double wooden doors leading to the palace of Argos are shut and unwelcoming. A sense of foreboding hangs in the air.
Our first glimpse of Electra confirms that Scott Thomas isn’t one of those actresses who is concerned about her looks, although even her transformation into an exhausted, dishevelled, ghost of a woman, ravaged by sleepless nights, can’t totally disguise her renowned attractiveness. Dressed in a grubby shift dress, she prowls, bare footed around the stage, leaving us in no doubt that her grief at the murder of her beloved father, Agamemnon at the hands of her mother, Queen Clytemnestra and stepfather, King Aegisthus, is all consuming. We realise that this grief and thirst for revenge have arrested her development. She is forever a raging adolescent, unable to function and prone to bouts of throwing herself on the ground in frustration and utter despair. In the wrong hands all this weeping and wailing could become tiresome in the extreme, but Scott Thomas bring so much light and shade to her Electra, with her every emotion etched onto her beautiful face, that one only feels compassion and sorrow. Her anger, never far from the surface, is at times composed, before erupting into loud, undisguised fury. She is sarcastic, too, particularly with her mother and, like a child, continually brushes the uncontrollable tears away with the back of her hand.
It is only when she is re-united with her adored brother, Orestes that she comes to life. Her joy at finally recognising him and thus realising that the stories of his death are untrue, is so uninhibited and real that we all smile with her. When this joy turns into squeals of delight, we are reminded once more of her child like quality. Scott Thomas makes Electra real.
The rest of the cast are good too. Diana Quick plays Clytemnestra, Electra’s self-righteous mother. Her regal bearing is in sharp contrast with Electra and her exasperation with this troublesome elder daughter is nicely shown. Jack Lowden, once again proves what a promising young actor he is (his role as Oswald in the recent Almeida production of Ghosts won him both an Olivier and Ian Charleson Award) by lending Orestes a quiet intensity and, what’s more he his voice has great vocal quality. Peter Wight is always worth watching, no more so than here with his subtle performance as the Servant.
This production of Electra is clear and concise, thanks in equal measure to Frank McGuiness’s adaptation, Ian Rickson’s precise direction and the entire cast. No-one should let the thought of a Greek Tragedy put them off coming to see this. Why, there are even one or two laughs in it!!