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August 10th - August 14th
Malvern Theatres Young Company presents
in a new version by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Nic Lloyd
‘My life is a river. It floods with grief.’
After her father’s assassination, Electra is gripped by the desire for revenge. Consumed by grief, she urges her brother Orestes to a savage and terrifying conclusion.
Malvern Theatres Young Company, directed by Nic Lloyd, will exquisitely harness the power of Greek drama to address Electra’s monumental sorrow, promising a visceral and arresting production of Sophocles’ tragedy.
As with last year’s production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, which played to capacity audiences, Electra will be presented ‘in the round’ and with no charge for admission. The company returns to Greek drama following its 2018 success with Antigone.
Established in 2012, Malvern Theatres Young Company gives aspiring young actors the opportunity to perform in a professional environment.
Pete Phillips - The View From The Stalls
With the main theatre pulling in good audiences with The Woman In Black, the Forum is doing the same with a play which goes back to the very origins of Western theatre itself - Sophocles' Electra. Performed "in the round" where the stage is, literally, a small raised wooden circle, this is the Malvern Theatres Young Company's return to performing after an enforced period of "resting" (though various company members were lucky enough to be able to put on a few shows last Autumn during a brief relaxation in the rules).
Each year, some new faces appear amongst the already experienced young actors and this year it was the chance for Steffi Mountain, Mia Stevens and Scarlett Lily Herron-Ward to work with old hands Rhys Harris-Clarke, Daniel Davis, Edward Kirby, Jennifer Thompson-Chatburn and Lexi Henry, with the theatre's Chief Executive Nic Lloyd in charge as usual as Director.
Nic chose a good version of the play to present to audiences - an adaptation written by Frank McGuinness for the Donmar Warehouse - as it is one in plain English and is easy to follow, even if you don't already know the story and therefore accessible to the audience.
Taking place in Argos (stop giggling at the back - this is a Greek tragedy and it is a city!), it is the story of a family at war - with itself. Electra and Orestes' father (Agamemnon) has been killed by his wife (Clytemnestra) and their stepfather Aegisthus (mainly because Agamemnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia, as commanded by the gods, so fair do's really). To protect Orestes, Electra had him sent away and while he is in exile, she lives a miserable existence with her mother and stepfather. Until one day, unrecognisable, Orestes returns to carry out his revenge and, with Electra, get justice… (and you wondered where Eastenders get their inspiration from!)
The plot gives the actors plenty to bite on, as the characters lament the death of Agamemnon, try to placate Electra, pleade to the Gods and conceal the fact that Orestes has in fact returned in person and not just his ashes as per the story Orestes and Pylades concocted of him dying victorious in a chariot race. And, without exception, they all rise to the challenge, especially Jennifer Thompson-Chatburn in the title role who had the responsibility of portraying her wretched life, Rhys Harris-Clarke as Orestes who ended up bloodied and Daniel Davis who as one of the chorus then re-appeared as the bad step-father Aegisthus - and you can guess what happened to him. Also of note was Mia Stevens in her first MTYC role as the mother Clytemnestra but, to be fair, the entire cast produced strong performances throughout. And if all the names seem a bit unusual to a British audience, no need to worry as it is clear who everyone is without having to remember!
As usual, the production is free to watch with donations very welcome, which also gives the audience the opportunity to talk to the cast after the show as they offer up their buckets. Sadly, the show will not be going to the Edinburgh Fringe because of the uncertainties over that festival this year but hopefully things will be back to normal next year with whichever show Nic has in mind for this young talented bunch of actors.
Meanwhile, the young actors will be continuing their studies or taking part in other local company productions such as Sherlock's Excellent Adventure from Our Star Theatre Company. And no doubt they are looking forward to the announcement of when the auditions will be for the next MTYC production…
Malvern's Young Company is, for the most part, made up of young people in training for a career in the professional theatre. They are now well known for their excellence under the careful direction of Nic Lloyd, who the rest of the world know as the far-sighted director of Malvern Festival Theatres.
Mr Lloyd is a remarkable man. In the face of a destructive pandemic he has continued to bring first-class theatre into Malvern (a couple of weeks ago, he presented the actor Ralph Fiennes in T.S.Eliot's "The Four Quartets" in a one-man performance already legendary, in earlier days Malvern received the best production of Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret" with a stunning EMCEE)
And now you have this small company of eager young actors tackling Greek tragedy with superb elan and a fine sense of live theatre, its demands, and what this choice of play means to an audience starved for want of high language from centuries before Christ, when the Greek playwrights, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, set the patterns for drama in ways which have influenced theatre ever since.
In many serious ways this is a blood tragedy, (its influence was quite clear in the Renaissance with plays like Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" and Webster's "Duchess of Malfi") where revenge and political murder is uppermost. There is often no particular sense of moral degradation or conscience here - even the Gods do not disapprove. Persons of high birth use morality to shape private ends and get away with it. Nothing changes according to news from Buckingham Palace this week.
Some characters we hear of but do not actually see - Agamemnon, for example, who sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in order to appease the God of the Winds in order to bring his becalmed ships home after the war of Troy, is here spoken of purely as a memory, since his fate was to be murdered for his family treachery by his wife Clytemnestra, (sister to the ill-fated Helen of Troy).
Rhys Harris-Clarke as Orestes, makes a gruesome entrance dripping with blood at the end of the play. The gods are appeased, the queen is dead. assassinated by her own child, avenging his father's murder.
The playing space is a circular drum on a large square and it suffices concentrating everything on these capable actors. Here the Chorus tell us of the woes of the chief players and invoke the gods according to the twists and turns of the action. This is the first time I have seen theatre-in-the round at Malvern, with a (very large audience may I say) sitting on four sides of a square. It means the actors can come close to us and the subtleties of body language are therefore not lost upon us.
Electra's grief and passion comes across well (Jennifer Thompson Chatburn in a sensitive performance) and Scarlett Lily Herron- Ward, captures perfectly Clytemnestra's calm singlemindedness, although her role is too short to allow of any significant dramatic development. But in a similar way to Euripides , Sophocles and Aesychlus before them all, did much for women in early Greek theatre. Generally speaking, women and household slaves sat apart at theatre performances generally since their actual social ranking was low. But the female characters shown here, have a grandeur endowed by the playwright which overturns social down grading.
Electra has her own voice, strong, vengeful, and demanding equality and this young performer gives the part weight and importance. When Thompson Chatburn calls upon Apollo, your blood runs cold for a long moment!
Amongst the men, I much admired Edward Kirby's serious rendering of The Servant. Mr Kirby is the steady rock at which Oresters throws himself, he has gravitas and a true sense of character, while Daniel Davis, whose work here I have admired before, can act in silence. His eyes never leave the action, and his power in stasis is marvellous and I wish him well in the future when he embarks upon a career in the theatre.
In Malvern, thanks to Nic Lloyd and a young company such as this, rest assured that the flame of theatre burns brightly and long may it continue to do for all our sakes.