Posts Tagged ‘Headlong Theatre’

Elektra Young Vic 02 July 

July 4, 2010


Picture from Young Vic Facebook page

The question is always how to adopt the distancing and generalisation of Greek tragedy to the modern stage, which operates by precisely the opposite principles, and where Elektra’s sweatstained singlet and bloodied face are present all to present.

This interpretation, using a new translation by Anne Carson,  followed Milton:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end

and the lighting by Guy Hoare certainly deserved credit for making the darkness visible (able to be seen through, in this context).

In pursuit of the same idea, the text left out rather a lot of the mythological and gnomic structure of  the original.  The Clytaemnestra of Nadia Cameron-Blakey impassively delivered her lines from an infinity of cold, while I enjoyed the nervous Chrysothemis of Amanda Hale in an Emily Dickinson dress.

Amanda Hale as Chrysothemis

But did Lydia Leonard as Elektra show the true Sophoclean adamantine intransigence, obdurate pride and steadfast hate, or was she merely put-upon?  Well, after receiving the false news of Orestes dying, she began to dig, and then a little of the magic appeared like the corner of a coffin.  But I think that the recognition scene between her and Orestes works better if they dispute for the ashes-containing urn as for his identity; here she took it away and cradled it in her arms.

I’m not sure that it really makes sense if the action already seems to be taking place among the chthonic deities; it is the actions of the characters above the earth while they can see the light that lead them there.  But this was a serious and highly competent attempt at tackling the problems of staging Greek drama, and I’ve no idea why the Young Vic felt they had to put it on for free.  It was co-credited to Headlong Theatre, and was without doubt a great deal better than the paid-for productions of theirs I’ve seen.

Salome (Oscar Wilde) Hampstead Theatre 26 June

June 27, 2010


Picture of Herod and Herodias from /

This production (credited to Headlong Theatre and The Curve Leicester) appeared to be set in the Niger delta with oozing oil and characters dressed in ragged denims waving sub machine guns.  Salome (Zawe Ashton) frequently referred to the body of Jokanaan (Seun Shote) as being exceedingly white, but he looked like a black man caked with oil to me.  She also at one point referred to her litter passing by ‘idol-buyers’ at a bridge; presumably she meant ‘idol-sellers’.  She didn’t get a silver charger to go with Jokanaan’s head either.

I’m not going to complain about the awful drab ugliness of the set (after all, war isn’t pretty), though in a play it would be helpful if one lost fewer of the words due to noisy machinery or characters facing away from you (in the middle of the stalls).

My complaint is that if the play is meant to be Decadent, then there must be something to decay.  Drunken oil-covered soldiers aren’t it.  The whole point of someone like Herod was to impress his power and glory on the populace (and so reassure his Roman patrons) by  continual awe-inspiring display.  So then this gives a lot of rose for the worm to gnaw at, both in the aesthetic hypertrophy breaking out in characters’ descriptions of the moon and so on and in Salome’s perverse desires undermining the painfully-maintained order of things.  Herod wandering around in decaying denim with what appears to be an article of Salome’s underwear round his head doesn’t really do it (not even if he was whited-up, which I think is the one historically-plausible item I noted).

On the positive side, I thought that Wilde’s text was actually rather good, as far as I could tell from this (mis)treatment…Maybe like ‘Lulu’ this one is better left as an opera…