"All the world's a hospital, and all the men an women merely inmates" writes internationally acclaimed Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in the programme notes for his staging of Hugo von Hofmannstal's adaptation of Euripides' Electra. What? He expands: "Theatre is a form of expression through which the playwright articulates his or her understanding of human beings as patients." It's a startlingly acute observation. Theatre is indeed a medium that seldom takes an interest in the happy, healthy and well-adjusted.
Suzuki's production, played before a backdrop of vast obsidian tiles, opens with five men in wheelchairs silently circling the stage for a good ten minutes before any named character enters. When they arrive, Electra, her sister Chrysothemis, their murderess mother Clytemnestra and the long-awaited Orestes are also in wheelchairs.
The text has been pared down to perhaps 50 lines and is delivered in a style that might best be described as opera-without-notes. There is a rare degree of control and intensity in these stylised vocal performances. And visually, this is a thing of stark and terrible beauty.
I won't pretend it's easy to watch – more like sitting in front of a moving Rothko painting which is screaming at you for an hour than traditional British theatre – and yet, while utterly alien and oblique the experience feels somehow cleansing; an exchange of the performers' searing conviction for your undivided attention. This is theatre as noise, thought and movement turned into abstract art. Remarkable.
- Andrew Haydon
King's Theatre, 11-13 Aug