The Complex: Electra

TOM BELL has never seen the Playroom better occupied.

Corpus Playroom, Tue 2nd– Sat 6th, 7pm, £6/5

Dir. Celine Lowenthal

The Complex: Electra is a masterpiece of the macabre. Celine Lowenthal’s script and production, aided by a brilliant cast, took the audience on a powerful and, at times, breathtaking tour through the mental degradation of Electra.

Sarah Livingstone, playing the lead, is undoubtedly the star of the show. Spending the majority of the play alone on stage, she holds the audience’s attention throughout. Her portrayal of madness is terrifyingly believable and intelligently combines with her character’s overriding vulnerability. This is particularly achieved by the anguished delivery of her soliloquies, which made me feel as though I was an integral part of Electra’s internal dialogues. I’ve never seen such an adept use of the playroom’s layout; the continual movement of her head between the two wings added to both the ebb-and-flow of the dialogue and the audience’s engagement with her inner turmoil.

Livingstone is excellently supported by the rest of the cast. For me, George Gillies (Electra’s brother Orestes) especially stood out. Particularly striking is Gillies’ skilled interaction with the audience, his rhetorical questions ensuring the audience’s intimate involvement with the dramatic climax. At one point I felt his piercing eyes (which never seemed to blink) staring right at me, leaving me distinctly uncomfortable.

Equally frightening is Saul Boyer’s portrayal of Aegisthus (Electra’s step father). From his first interaction with Electra, I could sense an underlying perversion to his fatherly intimacy. His nonchalance towards Electra’s assertion that she is not a child, for instance, added to the eeriness of their relationship.

The acting is masterfully supported by the production. The stage décor provides an ironic contrast to the script’s subject matter, Electra’s agitation and the growing familial tensions juxtaposed with the cosy domesticity of the clothes line. The use of sound and lighting is also very professional, a particularly nice touch being the use of a recorded ‘Greek chorus’ to emphasise Electra’s descent into madness.

Finally, a word must be said about the strength of Lowenthal’s script. Brilliantly combining Freudian sentiment with religious imagery, her portrayal of psychosis is both delicate and enthralling. This is highlighted by the irony of Electra’s recital of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, the ‘our father’ a reference just as much to Electra’s father as God. Indeed, the religious imagery surrounding her father portrays him in an almost sacrificial and divine light. Not once  did I feel that the symbolic element of the writing was forced. Rather, it helped to build expectation, and befitted a play whose title explicitly associates itself with the psychoanalytic use of the Electra myth. Lowenthal also uses the play’s brevity, which could easily be a weakness, to her advantage: it enhances the emotional density of the script and ensures that its gravitas does not let up once.

In all, if you want to escape the frivolity of Freshers’ Week and experience the best of Cambridge theatre, then look no further than The Complex: Electra.