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Electra (UK) (1997)

Electra (UK)


A play by Sophocles, in a new version by Frank McGuinness, performed at the Minerva Studio Theatre, Chichester: 10-27 September 1997; transferred to the Richmond Theatre, London: 6-11 October 1997; and transferred to the Donmar Warehouse, London, 21 October - 6 December 1997.

Performance length: 1 hour and 35 minutes (no interval)


Electra (UK) image #1 Electra (UK) image #2 Electra (UK) image #3 Electra (UK) image #4

The first and second photos show Electra (played by Zoe Wanamaker).  The third photo shows Orestes (Andrew Howard) being reunited with his sister, Electra, as the Chorus of Mycenae (Jenny Galloway) looks on.  The fourth photo shows Electra with her sister, Chrysothemis (Orla Charlton).


Electra is an Ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Greeks prepared to war with Troy, King Agamemnon was prompted to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to appease the gods.  After returning home from battle victorious, he was then murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra.  She killed her husband after entering into a secret pact with Aegisthus, her lover and cousin to the King.  Horrified by her father's slaughter, Iphigenia's sister, Electra, sent her young brother, Orestes, into hiding. 

As Electra opens, many years have passed since the brutal killings, yet the memory of Agamemnon's bloody demise is as fresh in the title character's mind as the desire for vengeance.  When Orestes returns home unexpectedly, events move swiftly as Electra seizes her chance to punish their mother and step-father.


Rudolph Walker ... Servant to Orestes

Martin McKellan ... Pylades

Andrew Howard ... Orestes

Zoë Wanamaker ... Electra

Alison Johnston ... Chorus

Jenny Galloway ... Chorus of Mycenae

Ninka Scott ... Chorus

Orla Charlton ... Chrysothemis

Marjorie Yates ... Clytemnestra

Raad Rawi ... Aegisthus


Director: David Leveaux
Designer: John Engels
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant
Movement: Jonathan Butterell
Sound Designer: Fergus O'Hare
Production Photographer: Ivan Kyncl


'I think it's about time you had a good scream,' said director David Leveaux to Zoë, when he first suggested that she star in the emotionally gruelling Electra

While Zoe initially had reservations about performing in an Ancient Greek tragedy - plays of this genre are often very complex and had 'made me feel unintelligent' in the past, she has explained - she was impressed by the director's modern vision for the production. 

Leveaux saw parallels between Electra's emotional anguish and the suffering experienced by the children of war in recent times, such as those affected by conflict in Sarajevo.  The cover of the Donmar Warehouse's theatre programme (shown at the top of this page) alludes to the parallel by incorporating a photo of Zoe as a child.  In another example of the production's publicity material, an image of Zoë as Electra can be seen in the eyes of Zoë as a child - Electra has been unable to move on from the terrible events she witnessed in her youth. 

Playwright and poet Frank McGuinness's version of Electra, moreover, 'pared Sophocles down to the fishbone'.  The resulting text, Zoe has remarked, was 'very bold, very powerful and, because of that, for me, it became a new play' (see her comments in Electra: A New Adaptation By Frank McGuinness).

This fresh approach to an ancient play was matched by Zoë's style of performance in the title role.  In Leveaux's words, Zoe's 'acting is spare, pure and highly focused' (see 'The Stage Does Your Brain In' interview).

In this production, Electra wears an oversized, old coat, which presumably belonged to Agamemnon.  As Zoe has since explained, the director 'bought an army coat that had been used in Dr. Zhivago, an original Russian coat, fully lined, immensely heavy', as a symbol of the enormous emotional burden under which Agamemnon's daughter struggles (see Zoe's interview in BOMB magazine).

Electra is among the most acclaimed productions in which Zoe has starred; audiences and critics widely regarded it as a triumph for all concerned.  Leveaux has cited Electra among his favourite shows and is full of praise for Zoe (see '20 Questions With ... David Leveaux' interview).

For her powerful portrayal of Electra, Zoe won both the Variety Club Award for Best Actress and the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 1998.

She subsequently performed Electra in the USA, with similar success.

Press coverage

'UK Olivier Nominations Out Jan. 16, Awards Feb. 16' - Playbill

'Laurence Olivier Awards: 1998 Winners' - Whatsonstage.com

'This will be remembered as the production in which Zoë Wanamaker staked her claim to greatness', declared Charles Spencer in the Telegraph.  'The production is a triumph', he added.  Zoe gave 'a towering performance', agreed Ian Shuttleworth, writing for the Financial Times.  'Stunning' is how the Daily Mail's Georgina Brown summed up Zoe's portrayal of Electra's grief and rage.  Her colleague at the newspaper, Michael Coveney, called it a 'performance to relish'.


Electra by Sophocles, in a new version by Frank McGuinness

Related links

Photos of Zoe Wanamaker with her Best Actress Olivier Award for Electra - TopFoto (search the website using the keywords 'Wanamaker', 'Best', 'Actress', 'Olivier', and '1998' to view photos)

Photo of Zoe Wanamaker with her Best Actress Olivier Award for Electra - Alpha Press

Photo of Zoe Wanamaker at the Variety Club Awards - Alpha Press

Photo of Zoe Wanamaker and husband Gawn Grainger at the Variety Club Awards - Alpha Press

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