Powerful voice of a woman haunted by grief

Edith Podesta as Electra.
Edith Podesta as Electra.PHOTO: CAKE THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS

Cake Theatrical Productions is presenting Electra, a tragic female icon, in the second of its series of classical reimaginings

First was the troubled Ophelia, moved in Shakespeare's Hamlet to suicide by grief over the death of her father.

Now Cake Theatrical Productions breathes life into yet another tragic female icon: Electra, the Greek princess out to avenge her father's murder.

Electra, which runs at the Drama Centre Black Box from Thursday to Saturday, is the theatre company's second production in its series of classical reimaginings.

"It's something we've been talking about for a while, and this year, we embarked on a trajectory where we would connect with the classics," says Natalie Hennedige, who is directing the show which she co-wrote with Michelle Tan.

There are many Electras in today's world, both men and women who embody her spirit - standing tall in the face of tyranny and brute force.

NATALIE HENNEDIGE, who is directing the show which she co-wrote with Michelle Tan

"Our art-making at Cake is always about expressing a point of view, a way of voicing a unique artistic perspective. And these classic characters offer us new possibilities of articulating the things we feel strongly about in ways that remain true to our artistic identity."

Ophelia, staged in March as part of the Esplanade's annual Studios season, retold the Bard's well- loved play through a feminist lens.

It restored to the character Ophelia her voice, in an attempt for her to "articulate her own version of the 'to be or not to be' speech", said Hennedige, 41, then.

This time, Cake amplifies the voice of yet another woman haunted by grief.

In Greek mythology, Electra, mourning the death of her father King Agamemnon, plots revenge against the corrupt duo who murdered him for his throne - Electra's own mother Queen Clytemnestra and new stepfather Aegisthus.

  • BOOK IT / ELECTRA

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, 05-01 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Thursday to Saturday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $35, e-mail admin@caketheatre.com

It was Electra's sheer tenacity that drew Hennedige to her story: The character is not trapped by her grief over her slain father. She is, instead, fortified by it, bent on bringing about justice.

Hennedige says: "Her powerful aggressors consider burying her alive to stop her voice, but she persists. And there is a price to pay for persisting in one's beliefs. Electra suffers for it.

"But silence is not an option for her. Complying, as our Electra says, would offer her some rest, but with rest comes forgetfulness and she never wants to forget the wrong that has been done to her father, so she keeps lamenting, refusing silence."

Electra's tale, she adds, is one of the power of one's voice, of persistence and endurance, and refusing to be cowed in the face of fierce opposition.

"There are many Electras in today's world, both men and women who embody her spirit - standing tall in the face of tyranny and brute force," says Hennedige, citing Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was in 2012 shot in the head for speaking up for girls' right to education, as an example.

"I like to think of them as strong, fighting flowers. Vulnerable in their human forms, but standing firm to speak and act against every inconspicuous and blatant injustice that pervades life."

Actress Edith Podesta will be centre stage as Electra, with Sharda Harrison, Andrew Marko and Lian Sutton playing multiple roles.

Podesta, 36, says: "She has many colours to her, but grief is the main hue. It is through her mourning that we get to understand her point of view, but sorrow has many nuances.

"Getting to know Electra as a character is like meeting a bereft person at a funeral and having an uninhibited conversation with her about her love and sorrow for the deceased - finding that there is laughter, light and adoration in her grief. Otherwise, what would there be to grieve the loss of?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Powerful voice of a woman haunted by grief'. Print Edition | Subscribe