Jenna Mahale reviews UCL Drama Society’s Electra
With Electra, UCL Drama Society paint a complex, multi-sensory portrait of grief that is saturated with both anger and vulnerability. The stage is minimal, rising pillars of light-boxes used innovatively to transform from battleground to teen girl bedroom – ‘But how different are the two, really?’ is the question that soon arises.
Director Lovis Maurer deserves praise for his linking violent wrath with representations of fragility throughout the play. In one particularly memorable visual, gushing blood falls to the floor as a cascade of red petals from a wounded body.The marriage of 1980s punk rock aesthetics and Ancient Greek dramaturgy may surprise initially, but the choice quickly makes itself evident as an incisive take on the rebellion and flamboyance that permeates both of these.
Electra‘s treatment of gender was communicated particularly well through costume design, in addition to simply being visually interesting. Electra (portrayed with brilliant nuance by Florence Woolley) wears platformed combat boots for the entirety of the production, shoes which link her to her brother Orestes (Daniel Seifu) who dons similar footwear, giving her movements the same weight and impact as the man who was borne into war in his youth. The idea of anger as an exclusively masculine domain is just one of the things that Electra rails against.
She rejects the swathe of bubblegum-pink velvet her sister Chrysothemis (Róisín Tapponi) offers her; Chrysothemis, for her part, is trying to temper Electra’s rage against their mother Clytemnestra (Mercedes Bromwich), yet the dress she thrusts into her sister’s arms is contemplated and rejected as quickly as the idea of maternal reconciliation. “You are a woman, not a man. Don’t you know that?” she implores Electra, whose costuming becomes increasingly masculine, transitioning out from the deep red velvet dress she wears in the first act, to finally culminating in what can only be described as an 80s power-suit.
Though the cast is superb, it is the production’s use of polished original music and hypnotic dance choreography truly sets it apart as an exceptional piece of student theatre. The band, half-hidden on the stage, consists of John O’Sullivan and Andreas Zinonos on guitar, Patrick Hoban on drums, Lewis Jarrad on bass, and Ethan Burton’s incredibly versatile vocals. Their sound thrills through the theatre, and after every song I find myself keenly anticipating the next. Similarly, the chorus shines in mesmerising interludes that punctuate the narrative with vignettes of the past, told entirely through the medium of dance. In these, we see that Electra’s relationship with her mother was not always so fraught, as well as how and why it came to be so. It is a credit to both Mercedes Bromwich and Laura Toms that we can so quickly sympathise with Clytemnestra, and feel her death so palpably.
The Drama Society’s production of Electra very successfully characterises how grief can change a person, to the extent that it constitutes the death of a self. Grief rouses Electra to violent murder, just as it once did her victim, her mother. This is what we witness just preceding the curtain call, a funeral, though not for the body lying on the table.
Image credit: Electra UCL