Well, let’s look on the bright side. There weren’t any flagrant cuts. The set–whitewashed walls and a twisted tree thing–was perfectly sensible. The costumes were generally serviceable, and the dress that Artemis wore at the end was truly lovely. In fact both Aphrodite and Artemis were effectively kitted out, with contrasting gold and silver paint on their faces, so we had ‘golden Aphrodite’ and Artemis with a crescent moon round her eye-socket.
And some of the performances were very good. As Aphrodite (and one of the chorus), Charlotte Powell managed to get the light and colour and meaning into her lines that were missing from the adaptation by David Crook, and as Artemis Daphne Alexander was truly goddess-like at the end. The young and cocky (rather than priggish) Hippolytus of Nick Lawson had his moments, as did the Chorus of Cameron Harris.
In fact, Charlotte Powell did an even better job of making something out of almost nothing than she did in the Yorkshire Tragedy a few months ago.
That’s about it.
On the minus side: the idea of treating Greek tragedy as a realistic story of domestic mishaps is always wrong–Greek tragedy was a large-scale public event that explained how things are–and the new version grated severely on me as well. The prevailing language was one of bureaucratic cliche–for all the characters. So we had Phaedra talking of Ariadne’s pained and crisis-ridden relationship with Dionysus, and the most famous line –when Hippolytus says that his tongue was sworn and his heart unsworn when he made a promise to the Nurse–was rendered as I merely recited a formula.
And then strangely enough, as in the original, Theseus told the servants to unbar the doors [originally the doors of a hut thing at the back of the stage] so that he could see the body of Phaedra…and they brought her in on a litter, when there’s a door at the side of the White Bear stage that would have done perfectly well for her to stay hidden behind while Theseus registered shock, grief and anger.
Mike Aherne (Theseus) and Natasha Alderslade (Phaedra) were especially…unsuccessful…at making anything of the rubbish they were given to speak. And there were strange directorial decisions: characters were rather too often addressing the back wall (or the far corner) rather than the audience, while I didn’t understand why the Nurse was using a generalised North Country accent to deliver the same kind of high-flown verbiage as the noble characters.
It would be unfair to mention the actors who fluffed their lines–I think that tomorrow is Press Night, so this was in the nature of a preview perhaps.