A Greek Myth Set to Punk Rock: A chat with "Electra" Director John Ward

Harriet Wilson

DumbWise Theatre's recent production of Electra was a modernised retelling of the Greek myth, which drew on themes of politics and the media, and was energised with punk rock music. I recently chatted with John Ward, artistic director of this interesting new piece.

 John Ward

John Ward

Punk music is a pivotal part of Electra, adding a new dynamic to an age-old myth. “I've always been a big fan of the story of Electra,” Ward comments, “and I became increasingly drawn to the spirit and angst of Electra as a character. She lives her life in rebellion and dissent and it reminded me of the punk movement, not just as a genre of music but as an attitude and an ethos.”

Electra is not only modernised by its music, but also by costume, contemporary themes, and by the play being set amidst a revolution. This latter adaptation in particular was “inspired by recent global unrests like The Arab Spring,” Ward explains.

“This has brought the very relevant themes of political spin and changing narratives into sharp focus, as those in power try to manipulate and silence the uprising and the people. I think a modern audience will really enjoy (and be terrified by) the similarities between our own international politicians and those in the play.”

This twist and the music in Electra are fundamental in shifting the tone of the play. “I'd like to think that it makes the play more palatable for new audiences,” Ward goes onto say. “The Greek narratives are unique and glorious but the style of long rhetoric speeches and action off stage is very different to theatre and storytelling as we know it today. We've tried to focus on action, by blending the Euripides and Sophocles versions of the play and the use of music really pumps the whole thing with life and energy.”

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When modernising a Greek play, there is one aspect in particular which has to be considered carefully: “you have to make strong decisions on how you will treat the idea of The Gods,” Ward explains, “especially for a largely secular modern audience. What I found really interesting, and wanted to explore, was the idea that Electra has turned her back on The Gods since they had done nothing to counteract the unjust killing of her Father. Therefore Electra presents the audience with a very modern take on 'The Gods' as she pursues her bloody destiny without their help or guidance.”

There is a lot to take in when watching this play but, whilst it is extremely atmospheric, it is not visually elaborate. “I love intimate theatre,” Ward comments “especially with the use of live music on stage, which is central to what DumbWise does. Particularly with this play, which has so much direct address, you feel part of the world and are right up close to the action. I'm not sure how it would translate to a bigger space, but we wouldn't say no!”

Electra played at the Bunker Theatre from the 27th February - 24th March 2018.