Agamemnon, Andrew Lopes, Clytemnestra, David Dunn, Edinburgh Fringe, Electra, Greek Tragedy, Jeanette Dunn, Jenn Walter, Lydia Saroto, Marc Testart, Mark Howard, Nuworks: Theatre Made in Australia, Orestes, Paradise in Augustine's, Peter Noble, Samantha Anne Hargraves, The Electra Legacy by David Dunn, Theatre Review
Nuworks Theatre are from Australia and their breezy rock musical “The Electra Legacy” is currently rattling floorboards and rafters at the Paradise in Augustine’s Church. Orestes (Andrew Lopes) is in a quandary. His mother Queen Clytemnestra (Jenn Walter) and her autocratic toyboy Aegisthus (Marc Testart) had conspired to murder his father King Agamemnon (Peter Noble). Furthermore, Clytemnestra had sent Orestes off to be throttled and his sister Electra (Samantha Anne Hargraves) to humiliatingly marry a peasant. This production begins with Apollo reuniting the siblings as adults, apparently under the instruction to kill Clytemnestra. The Queen’s treatment of her children was obviously inhuman, but can Orestes and Electra wreak vengeance without robing themselves in their mother’s own foulness and committing matricide?
There is a lot of music and it gains a lot of its power from proximity. If I was seated three tiers and twenty-three rows away from it, in a conventional theatre hall, then I might commence my normal nitpicking, but it is awesome up close. Orestes starts out looking and sounding rather like the young pin-up hero in a Disney film. He sings plaintively or ruefully. It is hard on him that he is forced to sing puppyishly about his own mother acting like “a bitch on heat.” As the clockwork of his vengeance winds on, however, he becomes increasingly surly and bitter. Somehow, the actor can make bags appear under his eyes. By the end, he looks impeccably deranged and he has long plummeted clean out of Disney’s universe.
The ensemble of voices around Orestes is beautifully rich and it complements his early ditties like a swelling river lifting up a plastic boat. The music is always darting about and doing new things: at times it is bluesy and at others rocky. It is very exciting when it is loud, as when an army of bamboo wielding papier-mâché Stormtroopers-from-antiquity chant “Hail Agamemnon!” or when some slinky Furies gate-crash the story in a final scene of romping rock-horror.
The inner chamber is orbited by some vivid, auxiliary performances. A mummified, bestilted Agamemnon looms over the tragedy, a tottering, festive and yet putrefying presence. If he reminds us of Hamlet’s father, his son will later pose, iconically, with the skull. A masked Chorus (Jeanette Dunn and Lydia Saroto) occasionally chip in with some stern utterances, but they otherwise supervise from afar, as though they think that this play is something unpleasant that should not be touched by hand.
And then there is Pylades (Mark Howard), a wayfaring companion to Orestes who has the most powerful lungs in the ensemble as well as an explosive secret. I am largely unfamiliar with the original sources for “The Electra Legacy” but I don’t think that this production’s final, spicy revelation is canonical. It still makes for a thrilling finish.
There should nevertheless be some pushback against the implications of this story, its moral, and even its title. The tragedy of this Orestes does not illuminate anything important about the human condition. It ultimately arises from miscommunication amongst the management, since contradictory demands have been cascaded down to the siblings from two different gods, both of whom are impossible to realistically ignore. The Gordian knot can be only cut violently. Moreover, this is already a long production and Agamemnon’s moralising about “the legacy” of Electra’s vengeance is an expendable surplus. To compare the 9/11 terrorists to a classical heroine is to give them a dignity that is insufferable. It is surely enough that Electra’s legacy is to have bequeathed to us some electrifying musical theatre.