Referred to by Kane as ‘my comedy’, her 1996 adaptation of the myth of Hippolytus is not what immediately springs to mind for light amusement.
Violent, with explicit sex scenes, the action in this adaptation centres on Phaedra, the king’s attractive younger wife, rather than on Hippolytus, her self-obsessed, foul-mouthed, super-slob of a step son.
This family’s life makes even the most dysfunctional soap opera story line look tame: with the prolonged absence of her husband, Phaedra develops an unhealthy, and unreciprocated, interest in Hippolytus. This lack of reciprocation isn’t personal. This disaffected, spoilt youth dislikes all women and doesn’t care for sex. He is simply looking to pass the time. Further incestuous dynamics are revealed through Strophe’s angry spats with Hippolytus.
While Joanna Roth is every inch the beautiful, lonely step-mother, Nicholas Shaw makes an excellent Hippolytus, succeeding in simultaneously attracting our revulsion and pity. A minor quibble: despite Shaw polishing off two burgers within the first 10 minutes, it is difficult to see him as being grossly overweight or ugly.
The set, sound and lighting designs are excellent with clever scene changes and a good use of space and levels within the small theatre. The opening set portrays a scene which would make Tracy Emin’s bed look tidy. Violence flickers across the theatre with scenes of rioting and poverty projected onto the walls, setting the atmosphere well.
Chaos and rebellion outside the palace walls are played strongly by the crowd of rioters. Their contribution to the culminating violence makes for uncomfortable watching. Further strengths rest in clever touches such as the use of camera phones to film the violence and the obnoxious youth playing obsessively with his remote controlled car.
Despite being topical against a backdrop of rioting, discontent and disorder, this play offers no answers or explanation but is thought-provoking and darkly captivating. It is definitely worth a visit – just leave the under 16s behind…
Phaedra’s Love runs from 28 September to 22 October 2011. Tickets: £17, £11 concessions – to book visit http://www.arcolatheatre.com/. Time: 7.30pm (4pm matinees).
By Rachel Phillips. Press image by Simon Kane and provided by Reduced Circumstances.