Waiting for Orestes: Electra
Visually and aurally striking adaptation of Euripides’ Electra from Tadashi Suzuki
This article is from 2012.
Five men, stripped to the waist and sitting in wheelchairs, circle the stage. Moving as one, they appear like a cross between an Ancient Greek chorus and the pitiful co-dependents of a Samuel Beckett play. For the first 18 minutes of the play, they say nothing, emitting only noises as they wheel around, ending their strange dance as a train, one joined to the other like railway carriages, leaving one poor, detached soul in their wake as their momentum takes them crashing off stage.
Welcome to the world of Japanese theatre master Tadashi Suzuki’s Waiting for Orestes: Electra, an opening work of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival theatre programme. In this splendidly dark and sparse production (also designed by Suzuki) all of the characters – from the raging princess Electra (daughter of the murdered king, Agamemnon) to her hated mother (the King’s murderer, Clytemnestra) – are disabled in-patients who are wheeled around by medical staff in hospital whites (Suzuki wasn’t to know this has been a popular motif in Scottish theatre in recent years, most recently in Alan Cumming’s one-man Macbeth for the National Theatre of Scotland).
If there is a gorgeous subtlety and minimalism to the design (from the set and costumes to the exquisite lighting), the text itself is a spare and truncated amalgam of Euripides’s Electra and the early-20th century version of the play by the Austrian dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. When the characters in this piece (which lasts a little over an hour) speak it is only to convey the central elements of the great story: Electra longing for the revenge that will come with the return of her brother Orestes (who is tasked with killing his mother); Clytemnestra denouncing Electra as an unreliable witness.
These scenes of humour, pathos and high drama are accompanied by composer and musician Midori Takada, who plays brilliantly on traditional East Asian instruments from her prominent position stage left. The cumulative effect is striking, both visually and aurally; even if the strongly stylistic approach renders the production less emotive than one might have expected.
King’s Theatre, 473 2000, until 13 Aug, 8pm, £12–£30.