13 June 2007
Tish Francis, artistic director of Oxford Playhouse, and The Onassis Programme, under the directorship of Helen Eastman and Professor Oliver Taplin, have joined forces with acclaimed writer-director Yael Farber to bring over from South Africa Farber's production called Molora, which is a retelling of the Oresteia, with elements from other versions of the legend of Orestes including the Sophocles Electra and Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies (which I don't know, to my shame, but there you go, nothing new). But I'm telling you. It's astonishing. Molora (it means 'ash') will come to the Barbican next year and tour the UK, all being well. I saw it last night, I'd had a rotten journey to the Oxford Playhouse, arrived at the theatre in a foul mood. Two minutes in my jaw dropped, my eyes widened, and I shifted to the edge of my seat, where I stayed for the hundred minutes' duration.
Some notes and production details from the recent run in Johannesburg here.
In imagining the agon, or formal argument, between Clytemnestra and her daughter Electra as given before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, seated behind plain wooden tables, leaning in so the mike can pick up their words, Yael Farber's version acquires at once a significant resonance for the culture it sprang from, while at the same time underscoring the mutability of the myth, the staggering ability of these mythical characters to transcend their origins and translate themselves across centuries, cultures, languages.
I'll never forget Dorothy Ann Gould's performance as Clytemnestra. It was terrifying, as she used the crudest tortures to force Electra to tell her what happened to the infant Orestes. It was heartbreaking, as she pleaded for her life before the raised axe. Farber gives her speeches that ring with poetry, a muscular eloquence born of her terrible suffering. I don't have a text before me but I can hear in my memory Clytemnestra's evocation of the corpse of her husband after she struck him down: "a masterpiece of justice".
I was honoured to meet Gould after the play, and told her as best I could how very impressed and affected I was. Of course she must hear it all the time - at least I should hope so. In any case she accepted these compliments from geekily enthusiastic me with warmth and grace.
Nor could I help bending the ear of the actor Jabulile Tshabalala, whose performance as Electra was also moving and thrilling, taking in the explosive and the pathetic.
I told Jabulile about the line used to mock Theresa in The May Queen - "That's right, you're immortal aren't yer." And that actually I would sometimes say to myself Yes she is, because Leanne Best's stunning portrayal of the avenging Daddy's girl in Liverpool, and Jabulile's in Oxford and Johannesburg - these are just yet more manifestations of Electra, the girl-woman who will live forever, or at least as long as there are people to tell stories.