DumbWise does not quite live up to their big claim that they have “reinvented” the gory myth of the house of Atreus with their Electra; unfortunately, there isn’t too much here to distinguish this from many other productions of Greek tragedies in general, let alone Sophocles’ work in particular.
What does stand out in this is DumbWise’s commitment to being an actor-musician company, which here yields not a ‘punk-rock’ soundtrack but something more post-rock, with the synthesis of violin, heavy and ambient guitars, and synth, reminding me of classic Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Some play their instruments better than others (some of the drums and singing were a bit out of time and flat in the opening scene) but this becomes less of an issue as Electra goes on. Especially when paired with dance and disorienting, shifting lighting at the beginning of the production to represent the war, the music is the strongest part of the play.
DumbWise would have been justified in leaning more heavily into this slightly more abstract and weird element of their performance, as they did in Orestes’ scene with the oracle, another high point of the play. However, most of Electra is staged quite traditionally, to its detriment, as the acting and translation are largely not very strong. Sian Martin as Clytemnestra is the strongest in the play, which makes sense – it’s Clytemnestra rather than anyone else who drives the story of the house of Atreus across tragedies – but in this one, Orestes (Dario Coates) and Electra (Lydia Larson) need to somehow show and convince us that Clytemnestra must be killed, that for all her charisma and persuasion it is the necessary thing for her to die. Neither Coates nor Larson quite manage this.
The problem which dogs most productions of Greek tragedies is that modernisation inevitably makes the events depicted seem to be allegorising events current to us. In some cases, in Electra, I could see their attempts to criticise manipulative use of the media and to sew distrust in authority figures (a la Trump and the Gove/Johnson cabal). This, unfortunately, isn’t developed well enough as it had to be reconciled with the beats and details of the original story to make for any comment that was novel, interesting, or particularly cohesive. Substituting the word ‘sword’ for ‘gun’ or making allusions to boxing and other things in our frame of reference, rather than Sophocles’, seemed forced at times, and tended to take me out of the story.
This is, however, an imaginative attempt at bringing us the myth in an engaging way which is likely to be a good introduction to the story for young people – pushing its oddness further might have obstructed that, though might have resulted in a more interesting piece.
Electra is playing at the Bunker Theatre until 24 March
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli