Kristin Scott Thomas reaches 'new peak' in Old Vic Electra
Critics have gone wild for Ian Rickson's production of Sophocles' great tragedy
Kristin Scott Thomas has arrived at a new peak in her career... Ian Rickson's staging in the reconfigured amphitheatre of the Vic is suitably swift and powerful... there's a permanent sense of chickens coming home to roost, underpinned by the sinister thrum of PJ Harvey's music... Rickson conveys the sombre rituals and declarations with tact and dignity... Scott Thomas achieves a Zen-like level of habitual sorrow and spiritual transcendence that suggests she will be running Helen McCrory's NT Medea very close in the best acting awards shake-down later this year.
We're so used to seeing Kristin Scott Thomas look elegant and refined that it comes as quite a shock to see her transformed into an unkempt, sickly hued and sleep-deprived creature... her tour de force performance in the gruelling role of Sophocles' grief-ridden Electra rewrites our understanding of her capabilities... within 90 minutes or so, the erstwhile screen goddess propels herself into the first rank of theatrical titans... there's something thrillingly unnerving about the way Scott Thomas can sound composed before erupting in impatient fury... this is a kill-for-a-ticket triumph.
Kristin Scott Thomas and director Ian Rickson are developing into one of the great creative partnerships of our time... they are reunited now on this devastatingly brilliant production of Sophocles' great tragedy Electra... In a performance of uncanny psychological penetration and disturbed and disturbing charisma, Scott Thomas emphasises how the situation has trapped Electra in a terrible arrested adolescence... With wonderful performances from Diana Quick as a matronly indignant-but-radically-uneasy Clytemnestra and from Peter Wight who gives expert nuance to the dedication of the Servant, the production builds ineluctably towards a blood-letting release that is, in the end, calculatedly limited and anti-climactic... In empathetically intimating this, the production compounds one's conviction that this an evening of unalloyed magnificence.
There is no doubt that the big draw here is the chance to see the impressive Kristin Scott Thomas escape from her familiar, elegantly groomed contemporary angst... Scott Thomas, prowling round Mark Thompson's circular stage in front of the palace at Mycenae, lends the role colour and variety. With her shorn, straggly hair and hempen robe, there is no doubting her physical anguish.. But, while Scott Thomas does nothing wrong, she occasionally does a bit too much: it's a psychologically perceptive study of a spiritually wounded woman full of passionate intensity that lacks only the element of stillness... although Electra dominates the play, the virtue of Ian Rickson's production is that it gives due weight to the other characters.
The results are extraordinary, if not always propulsive. There are moments, as Scott Thomas delivers her despair from flat on the ground, or circles the set with her fingers forever fiddling, where you long greedily for more Sturm und Drang... When Diana Quick's Clytemnestra wearily accuses her mutinous but predictable daughter of "prowling outside the house again", she gets a deserved laugh - one of a handful in Frank McGuinness' stripped-back translation. Scott Thomas' Electra drawls, shrieks and is sarcastic from between clenched teeth. She is suffering from arrested development... PJ Harvey's spare background music helps to build the claustrophobic mood...