Thurs 3rd October - Sat 5th October & Tues 8th October - Sat 12th October 1985
Directed by Isobel D'Arcy
Electra is waiting for her brother, Orestes to return. He will avenge the death of their father, Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, murdered by their mother. This play of power struggle and revenge is here set in a modern Greek town with echoes of the Colonels' regime in the 1960s, together with Greek music and dancing.
This play is a translation by E F Watling from the original play by Sophocles, which itself is based on a Greek myth. scholars have supposed that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career. Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan war, it is based around the character of Electra, and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.
Agamemnon and Menelaus are brothers; Kings of Mycenae and Sparta respectively. Paris, Prince of Troy, visits Menelaus' court and falls in love with Helen, the Queen, and abducts her to Troy. Agamemnon brings his army to fight for her return. Unfortunately, he has angered the goddess Artemis by killing a stag in her sacred grove. For this sacrilege, the goddess withholds the winds, preventing the Greeks sailing for Troy. She demands the sacrifice of Iphigeneneia, Agememnon's daughter. This is performed, and the fleet set sail.
Clytemnestra, Queen of Mycenae, nurses a grudge against her husband for killing her daughter. On his return from Troy, ten years later, she murders him, and marries Aegisthus, half-brother to Agememnon. Electra, her daughter, vows to avenge the death of her father, and sends her young brother Orestes away until he has grown to manhood and can return to avenge their father's death by killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Chrysothemis is the fourth child, who has taken no part in Electra's plans. She prefers to live within the rules of her mother, while in sympathy with her sister.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Taverna Owner||Richard Fieldhouse|
|The Greek||David Penrose|
|Priest (Tutor)||Peter Holding|
|Taverna Owner's wife||Nicola Scadding|
|Stage Manager||Robbie Cattermole|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Pete Woodward|
|Lighting and Sound||Tony Kellaway|
|Front of House||John Scadding |
I have been a lover of both Ancient and Modern Greece, and the Greek tragedies. This led me to 'Electra', with its marvellous parts for women. While re-reading the play, it struck me that there were many resonances with the power struggles of Greece in the twentieth century - not least with the time of the Colonel's regime of the 1960s. While not making Aegisthus into one of those actual military governors, the idea of an oppressive military regime is there Orestes therefore has a touch of the resistance leaders of the Civil War in Greece following World War II, as well as a personal avenger.
The Greek Orthodox Christian religion lies easily on the old religion of the Greek gods. There are thousands of little Greek churches on hilltops, by streams, on beaches; easy to imagine they are on the same sites as the ancient shrines to gods of mountains, rivers and seas. Some saints have been directly transformed - Artemis has changed sex to become St Artemidos, Apollo becomes Saint Appollon. May Day celebrations in modern Greece are a direct descendant of the ancient rituals, and Greeks today mix invocations to the saints and the old gods indiscriminately. Even we still use the phrase "in the lap of the gods". So the shrine to Apollo in our production becomes the ikon of Saint Apollon, brought out of the church into the square and decorated on his Saint's Day. The old and new religions mix as old and new religions have always mixed. Electra pays tribute to Christian practice but still retains the religion of her beloved father.
The music for the production is Syrtaki folk dance and Rebetika. The songs are by Theodorakis. Miki Theodorakis' music was banned in Greece during the Colonel's regime. There was a case of students being imprisoned for listening to his songs. Theodorakis lived outside Greece, and only returned when the regime fell. Rebetika is the equivalent of 'blues' music and mostly concerns the oppressed, the imprisoned, and those addicted to hashish. The singers of Rebetika are also the poets. Syrtaki is the dance music that most visitors to Greece will be familiar with, thought often westernised with a 'pop' rhythm section.
A timeless tragic masterpiece is given a modern history setting in the Bench Theatre's production of 'Electra' by Sophocles. Director Isobel D'Arcy, a confirmed Graecophile, has used her knowledge of 20th Century Greek history and culture to give the play nuances of the power struggle during the Colonels' regime of the sixties.
Hence, Aegisthus is an oppressive figure in the mould of Peron, Somosa, or Galtieri, and his mistress Clytemnestra - the Joan Collins of the piece - is a woman of ambiguous intention and ambition rather like Eva Peron. Her son Orestes returns to avenge the murder of his dead father as a young rebel, and is welcomed by the people as a freedom fighter. Another thoughtful innovation is to set the play outside an ordinary taverna, such as you would see on holiday in any small village, with a shrine combining the ancient gods with the Christian. Instead of a corporate group, the chorus is split into five ordinary character, whose individuality develops in different ways.
Notable of these was The Greek, played by David Penrose as a Zorba-esque figure. At the centre of the production is the lady herself, Electra. Jo German, one of the Bench's most accomplished actresses, plays this demanding role very brooding, brittle and tense - until the moving reunion with her brother Orestes, when she straightened into a hard taut figure who knew her hour had to come. While the first-night audience was disappointingly small, the company of 13 players managed to keep the tension level high for most of the action. Although Aegisthus did not exactly have the air of a man walking off to his death, Terry Cattermole has the problem of having to make a powerful impression in a very short time when things are at their most intense.
It's a sign of the times, I know - but such heavy human drama forces comparison with 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas'. Will we still think of Alexsis and J.R. in 2,000 years time? 'ELectra' is performed until Saturday, and from Tuesday to Saturday next week at the Old Town Hall Havant as the Arts Centre is now named.
The News, 4th October 1985