Anglophones are spoilt, we really are. Imagine how at a loss we would collectively be if a production lapsed as often into a foreign tongue – any foreign tongue – as often as Stefan Pucher’s production uses English. Pucher stages the choric sections of Sophocles’ drama as they would have been presented 2,400 years ago musically, but in contemporary musical idioms. Broadly speaking, Christopher Uhe’s score is a kind of post-blues, with two onstage musicians providing guitar, keyboards and programmed beats. And, as music is a universal language, English is the universal language of lyrics, one might even say the classical language of rock, so the performers switch more or less interchangeably between it and German.
A number of tweaks have been made for the sake of clarity. The main (indeed, the only) event of the play may be Orestes’ return home to kill his mother and her lover in revenge for their murder of his father Agamemnon, but the piece is more about Elektra’s lust for that revenge than her brother’s performance of it. Thus, the opening scene of Orestes’ arrival is relegated to video projection so that Katharina Marie Schubert’s Elektra may take the stage herself. Orestes’ friend Pylades – always by his side, never saying a word – is cut because no one today understands why he’s there anyway. And the performances conform strongly to the respective character types: Schubert’s Elektra unyielding and declamatory in her grief and accusation; Tabea Bettin as her sister Chrysothemis vainly advocating acquiescence as a realist position; their mother Klytaimestra cold and unrepentant in Susanne Wolff’s rendition.
Other touches suggest classical allusions writ large, perhaps too large. If the palace is to be atop a flight of steps, then the entire rear of the stage consists of a vertiginous multi-level arrangement, leaving Elektra alone on the base-level forestage for most of the 90 minutes. Those may be versions of the classical chiton that the men are wearing rather than ballgowns, but why fringe them with ostrich feathers? (It cannot be a comment on machismo, even though Elektra changes from a tailcoat to a dress when she seems to abandon hope, since Orestes is still “frocked” when he carries out the murders.) But none of this significantly fogs Pucher’s strong, dynamic, contemporary reading.