Every now and then a performer manages to reset the bar of what can be achieved in theatrical circumstances; Kristin Scott Thomas just broke the bar in her portrayal of a woman drowning in grief and despair who manages to claw onto hope within the darkest reaches of possibility. Her much-hyped rendition of Electra does not disappoint;  her portrait of Agamemnon’s daughter is a complex one.  In moments of grief she has a bestial fury that can be only be suppressed by the juvenile excitement she displays at extracting revenge against her father’s murderer, Clytemnestra. Electra exists neither fully in grief or in hope, she wades through the tangled history of betrayal and clings on to what she believes to be just and pure. There are no moments of tedium in Ian Rickson’s Electra.

Kristin Scott Thomas delivers a meticulously designed hero, in the sense that she has discovered how to deliver a seemingly effortless rendition of Sophocles’ legend without robbing her of any depth or complexity. She is as likeable as she is transfixing; her portrayal of Electra is truly remarkable. One gets the sense that she is not a slave to prearranged rhythms of dialogue, her words seem to burst out of her. Her petite frame clothed in a beige sack jumps around the stage in moments of excitement and crumbles in despair. She is generous and present on stage.

Whilst this production is very much Kristin’s show, the larger cast deliver strong, sturdy support. Jack Lowden’s Orestes is fierce, despite his limited time on stage, and he proves to be a suitable receptacle for Electra’s ecstatic adoration. There is a magnetic allure to Lowden that will presumably swell in the coming years.

Sans interval, Electra feels compact and swift. The bleak stage is void of decoration and home only to a lone tree and grand door. The score that PJ Harvey creates subtly imbues the air with an added sinister texture. Set in the round, Electra’s lack of privacy to grieve, the urgency of revenge and her vulnerability was palpable.

Having recently denounced film as a medium that robs actors of artistic control over their own performance, it seems obvious why theatre is Kristin’s preferred medium. Electra is ragged and unrefined, a huge leap from her usual onscreen persona, namely in The English Patient and Gosford Park. She is generous in her performance and doesn’t rest for the entirety of the show, with ample energy she tirelessly bounds around the stage rallying others to join her protestations about the unjust actions of her captors. Amazingly, in this melancholy tragedy, Kristin manages to elicit numerous chuckles from the audience. We are endeared to her and as she spins round to project her voice to all in attendance; we drink her words with an unquenchable thirst. With each of Electra’s speeches feeling fresh and conversational, we are fully immersed in the Grecian world.

Electra is playing at The Old Vic until 20 December. For tickets and further information see the Old Vic website. Photo by Johan Persson.