Elektra a.d. by Christos Tsiolkas. Directed by David Bransonin a double bill (with Miss Julie by August Strindberg). Music by Greg Raymond and Pip Branson. The Street Theatre Thurs 7 - Sat 9 and Wed 13 - Sat 16 October, 1999, 8pm. Matinee Sat 16 Oct, 2pm.
This play is an intriguing modern tragedy of enduring hatred, using the ancient Greek story of Electra to tell the modern story of the division of Cyprus and the Cypriot Christian/Moslem refugee experience in Australia. The parallels are drawn in the play with the Sarajevo conflict, and it takes little imagination on our part to see Kosovars and East Timorese in these roles.
In the original Oresteian plays by Aeschylus, centred on Electra's brother Orestes, Electra is the force for justice through retribution, for death in the name of her family's traditional rights. American writer Eugene O'Neill translated this story to the Civil War in the famous play Mourning Becomes Electra, in which her tragedy is never to give in but to turn away from society, entering the family's cold stone mansion to eke out the remains of her life alone.
Tsiokas has similarly made his Elektra isolated in her factory job, refusing to learn the hated harsh language, English, watching the news of war in Europe on a tacky television in a tiny Melbourne flat. Her elder brother, Orestes, is missing in action; her mother has married a Moslem, and produces a new cross-breed half-brother, whom Elektra murders.
The strength of the play is in Tsiolkas' writing, paralleling the language of the ancient Sophocles' version of Electra - the "Elektra b.c." presumably. All the actors use the language well, but special praise goes to Louise Morris (Elektra), Estelle Muspratt (Elektra's sister Chrysothemis) and Joe Woodward (her mother's new husband, Aegisthus). David Branson notes that the play is still in development, and I expect the script to be trimmed and added to in time, and transitions between scenes to become better integrated. The visuals are relevant but at times distract from the action, and the live music - excellent as it is - can be knitted into the play much more.
The Greek tragedy form, where characters objectively describe their thoughts, works powerfully here: well worth the experience.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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