Electra is a strong contender in that favourite of reality entertainment: Ancient Greece's Most Depressing Families. MinusOneSister focuses for once on the fact that these are kids trapped in a cycle of love, hate, murder andrevenge.
And what simultaneously astounding and average children they are: Electra (Kate Cheel), full of panache and paranoia; Chrysothemis (Contessa Treffone), the diplomat/doormat; abandoned Orestes (Liam Nunan), the avenger; and Iphigenia (Lucy Heffernan), who's off to die before she's probably even developed hips. It's no wonder the story continually grips writers with its blood-soaked fingers and ends up on stage. "They fuck you up, your mum and dad," wrote Philip Larkin, and they do it ad infinitum.
Most of the time when adults try to speak from the perspective of children, the result is twee at best. Anna Barnes' script is an exception — written exactly in the cascading fashion a 14-year-old would describe to you Sophocles' Electra. It is captivating writing, which won the STC's Patrick White Playwrights' Award in 2013.
Luke Rogers' direction and staging, and the preparedness of the quartet of performers, seals the success of this world-premiere production. The turns of phrase are unpretentious and unexpected, inasmuch as they manage to completely bullseye the story's core with innocence that other renditions lack. MinusOneSister really nails the way kids manage to deal with death and loss (the "there, but nots"), the way kids see through adult euphemisms, and the way poor Orestes needs to prove himself to his three big sisters, so they'll finally see him as more than "a human cat to dress up".
The design, by Georgia Hopkins, is effective, with a sense of timelessness. Electra, Iphigenia, Chrysothemis and Orestes exist in a whitewashed limbo. They are the last remnants of the Agamemnon family's deceased estate. Fittingly, Sian James-Holland's lighting is cool and alienating. LCD lights on the floor recreate the quintessential childhood experience of trying to peek into the grown-up world from the crack under your door.
Cheel, Heffernan, and Treffone form a very strong sisterly collective, at times appropriately sidelining their brother, the "baby CEO". Each of the sisters is gifted a strong, nuanced monologue by Barnes, to convey their leaps between contemporary dilemmas and ancient plot points.
MinusOneSister really had me thinking about the difference of age when childhood trauma hits. When their dad died, Chrysothemis was a little girl, but Elektra an adolescent. Was it just chance that Electra never forgave Mum? Probably not.
MinusOneSister is a beautiful take on teenage reality. The proficiency of its writing, direction and ensemble acting amount to an enjoyable new reflection of the Electra story.