Mental health art comes in all shapes and sizes, with I Am Orestes and I Am Electra Too opting to adapt well-known Greek tragedies into a contemporary discussion on the issue. Unfortunately I struggled to connect with this idea in a complicated play that could need prior knowledge for audiences to truly understand its purpose.
Are you capable of murder? I am. You are. We all are. Through a contemporary version of the timeless Orestes and Electra’s words, thoughts and actions, we take the matter to an extreme point, making clear that a mistreated or untreated mental health patient could perfectly end up doing things that a sane brain would not.
Sadly this doesn’t seem the show that you can drop in to blind, and my little knowledge of Greek tragedies was truly put to the test in the whirlwind modern adaptation. Its difficult to keep on top of the plot, not helped by the actors speaking slightly too fast at times.
It’s a heavy show and something I didn’t understand without much effort and this could have affected the emotional effect. The purpose of the play seems confused and the dystopian element doesn’t truly translate despite a few voice clips describing events.
But what I really struggled with in this piece was the reason I came to see it – its debate on how those with mental illness can do things the sane mind cannot. To me this premise isn’t obviously discussed through the performance, and, only after reading words from the writer Arif, by any means seems to suggest that murder is a capability of those with mental issues.
I agree that the mental health of children needs to be dealt with far swifter than it is today but I don’t believe every mind struggling with these illnesses is heading to such drastic acts purely because a lack of intervention. The mind is altered through mental illness but we need to draw the conversation away from negative capabilities – this only upholds the stigma that those with mental conditions are unstable and to be feared. This outlook is certainly old-fashioned to me.
Despite this, it’s clear a person well-versed in Greek tragedies may interpret this as a cleverly structured new imagination of an old tale. It’s certainly had a lot of thought and the staging worked well with the piece, with some excellent technical elements to support the production.
Both Marta Ramonet and Arif Alfaraz give convincing performances as Electra and Orestes. Marta’s portrayal of Electra’s mental struggle had particular fortitude and gravitas.
Although the piece struggles with conveying it’s true purpose, it has potential and certainly attempts to bring the issue of mental health the fore, if not always in a conversational way.
I Am Orestes and I Am Electra Too is at Greenside @ Infirmary Street – Forest Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until 27 August. Tickets available online.
My Edinburgh trip was supported by the Network of Independent Critics! Find out more about their work here.