SBW Stables Theatre, September 11

Minus res
Kate Cheel as Electra. Photo: Brett Boardman.

The radio news on the way to the theatre, crammed with domestic violence and familial murders, was like a background briefing for the play. Anna Barnes’ fresh take on the story of Electra (familiarity with which is recommended) seeks to have bells of resonance clanging amid the challenging risks she takes with form.

These risks include writing unassigned slabs of exposition or recollection that the director, Luke Rogers (for the Stories Like These company) has allocated between his four actors, and that emerge as overlapping or repeated fragments of information. Sometimes two or more actors might alight upon a word or phrase simultaneously, and the sudden convergence flares out from the surrounding text. Another device is jumbled chronology, so that events might be remembered before they happen, and time becomes evanescent, while the episodes time contains remain real – and bloody.

Barnes’ characters are Agamemnon’s four children: Electra (Kate Cheel), Iphigenia (Lucy Heffernan), Chrysothemis (Contessa Treffone) and Orestes (Liam Nunan). The setting is now, with brattish teenage behaviour and contemporary technology cohabiting with meatier matters of fear, power, murder and revenge.

The naturalistic dialogue is tonally at odds with the chorus-like exposition, however. One senses a much stronger play was within reach had Barnes been able to contrive a less crass, more poetic form of interaction. She may well have shied from this in pursuit of the dreaded god of “relevance”, but the result is that we are not as moved as we should be by the tumultuous events, precisely because we are not sufficiently affected by the language.

Georgia Hopkins’s set suggests a patrician mansion, and Rogers makes imaginative use of the little stage, especially in the non-naturalistic sequences. The actors certainly throw themselves into the work’s challenges – so much so that the performance had to be suspended when a caster on a bed broke! Cheel stood out, as did Nate Edmondson’s sound design. But for all the fury and shouting we left the theatre more intrigued than moved.

Until October 3.