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Reviewed by:
  • Electra
  • Jae Kyoung Kim
Electra. Based on Elektra by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Adapted, directed, and designed by Tadashi Suzuki. Co-production of Korea and Japan. Arko Arts Theatre, Seoul, Korea (ROK). 10 and 11 October 2008.

As a co-founder of the BeSeTo Festival organized by theatre artists of China, Japan, and Korea in 1994, Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki has worked to encourage collaboration among the three countries for the development of East Asian theatre. His production of Electra, with a mainly Korean cast and a lead Russian actress, brought to fruition his concept of multinational production. At the same time, Suzuki created a contemporary Electra by re-inscribing the ancient Greek play-text with a present-day story in which people live in fear of indiscriminate terrorism. His actor training method made possible a revival of the ritualism of an earlier time by capitalizing on the actors’ “animal energy,” filled with pain, terror, anger, and loneliness. Combining the updated scenario with Japanese traditional theatre, ritualistic techniques, and an international cast, Suzuki presented a riveting contemporary, intercultural incarnation of the Greek classic.

The world of Suzuki’s Electra was a modern mental institution in which Electra, Clytemnestra, Chrysothemis, and Orestes were isolated patients who never faced one another, but, instead, talked to themselves, the audience, and the world. A series of monologues and disjointed dialogues symbolized each character’s confinement to his/her own psychological ward. Electra and Clytemnestra symbolized people of today who are either the victims or the perpetrators of terror. Electra expressed her burning desire to avenge her father Agamemnon’s death through intense physical language; Clytemnestra’s hysterical outcries and abusive actions revealed her growing fear and madness. Moved by pain beyond words, they communicated through animalistic screams and gestures. Through the metaphor of the hospital and the actors’ gestural language of insanity, Suzuki probed the darkest depths of our world. The notes in the program even suggested that since Suzuki described the world in this manner, he lacked the hope necessary for healing and recovery; in his world, nurses and doctors might be patients too.

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Nana Tatishvili in Electra. (Photo: Copyright © Ansan Arts Center.)

The actor’s body is Suzuki’s primary interest. As part of the rehearsal process, the Korean actors visited Toga Village, Japan, where they undertook intensive training with Suzuki. Through this training, Suzuki’s method helped the actors awaken an animal energy in their bodies that is often forgotten in today’s industrial and technical society. By [End Page 472] learning a language based on their own physicality, the actors could communicate easily with Suzuki, despite the differences in their spoken language. This was also true for the Russian actor in the cast, Nana Tatishvili, who has worked with Suzuki many times; Suzuki’s subtle skill as a director allowed her acting to harmonize with that of the Korean actors, overcoming any language barriers. (The cast spoke in Korean with the exception of Tatishvili, who does not speak Korean, so her Russian lines were projected in Korean subtitles.)

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Nana Tatishvili in Electra. (Photo: Copyright © Ansan Arts Center.)

Although Suzuki asked the actors to follow the basic physical rules he has developed, he also respected each actor’s singularity, giving Electra unpredictable diversity. He double-cast the main characters—Electra, Clytemnestra, and Chrysothemis—and directed their rehearsals separately. As a result, he showed two unified though distinctive works to the audience. The first cast (team A), led by Tatishvili, performed on 10 October, and the alternate cast (team B), led by Yu-jeong Byeon, performed on the following evening. Although Suzuki ordered his actors to follow the same basic blocking, he gave them a chance to create their own individualized presence through their speech, physical movements, and facial expressions, making the performances of the two teams completely unique. Team A expressed the characters’ extreme anger and madness with powerful physicality. Tatishvili’s Electra constantly burst out in an animalistic sonorous timbre, creating a powerful tension and energy throughout the performance; I-ju Jang portrayed an eccentric, pitiful Clytemnestra through naturalistic movement combined with exaggerated facial expressions...


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