Theatre review: After Electra at Tricycle Theatre

After Electra by April De Angelis. Full cast. Picture: Steve Tanner

After Electra by April De Angelis. Full cast. Picture: Steve Tanner - Credit: Archant

The end is nigh in April De Angelis’s subversive new work. Free-spirited, octogenarian artist Virgie’s (Marty Cruickshank) family and friends find they’ve been gathered not to celebrate her birthday, but her death. Rather than suffer the indignities of ageing, Virgie plans to commit suicide by striding into the sea.

It’s an audacious premise, played initially – and most successfully – as seething black comedy. Polite incomprehension becomes outrage and recrimination: Virgie’s neglected, middle-aged children Haydn (Veronica Roberts) – ironically a bereavement counsellor – and Orin (James Wallace) read it as selfish, her indomitable educationalist sister (Rachel Bell) as hippy attention-seeking. Does Virgie have a right to leave them, and do they have a right to stop her?

De Angelis urgently addresses the cruel diminishment of ageing, noting that the heaviest burden falls upon the fairer sex – illustrated by the fact that, by centring on older women, her play is a rarity.

Virgie’s pioneering feminist individualism and artistic virtuosity are juxtaposed with spikey self-absorption, and Cruickshank does justice to this satisfyingly complex role. She hasn’t committed murder, like Clytemnestra, but abandoned motherhood for career – another act viewed as “unnatural” by society – leading to a subtler version of Electra’s filial vengeance. Michael Taylor’s evocative set, gradually stripped of Virgie’s identity, is a powerful manifestation.

Yet the rigidly schematic debate grows wearying, despite a spry Samuel West production, and increased introspection shows up limitations in character development. Two cameos merely hammer home familiar points – time better spent on the main cast.

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There’s superb work by brisk Bell and hangdog Roberts, plus in-joke comic relief from unhappily married novelist Sonia (Kate Fahy) and superlative luvvie Tom (Neil McCaul).

Bold and thought-provoking, but falls short of the contemporary response to Sophocles its title declares.

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Marianka Swain

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