Phaedra’s Love Arcola Theatre 28 September


Arcola Studio 1--but not this production!

I know that looks like Uncle Vanya up there, but I have a point to make:  you want to sit in the seating in the middle facing the wall (so you can see the video projection on the wall) but not in the front row (unless you want to tangle with Hippolytus’s toy-car-cum-chariot).

I had the idea that this was an adaptation of Seneca’s Phaedra, but that’s not quite it:  it’s more like the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus done in the Senecan manner with lots of extra incest, mutilation, rape etc thrown in for good measure and with dreary existential attitudinising after Caligula (or more distantly Huis Clos) added as well.

So at the beginning Hippolytus is a cynical depressed unwashed slob given to fast food and masturbation and hence women are crazy for him, especially his stepmother Phaedra.  Both Nicholas Shaw (Hippolytus) and Joanna Roth (Phaedra) did this bit very well, and the tension was well maintained in some further incestuous interchanges with their half-sister/daughter Strophe (Emma Keele).

You know what happens next.  Fellatio.   Phaedra dead and Hippolytus accused of rape.  He will not save himself.  Up to here we’d done pretty well really, with the play keeping us securely in the discomfort zone.  Then there was an outbreak of existentialism as Hippolytus sought–welcomed–authenticity at last.  Then there followed mob violence, castration, incestuous anal rape etc not to mention a final lyrical-existential-decadent declaration by Hippolytus regarding vultures.

I think if you’re going to stage that kind of violent excess you need to do it on a really grand scale and try to cow the audience, which is not really possible in this space.

A lot of the time we had rather intrusive sound design (or just sound) and I personally couldn’t make out all the words.  I suppose that Katie Mitchell has decreed that video projections and clipboards (it wasn’t quite a clipboard that Strophe entered with, but near enough) are compulsory in all productions with some classical reference, so it must be so.

But all-in-all worth seeing, and with some impressive playing.

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3 Responses to “Phaedra’s Love Arcola Theatre 28 September”

  1. Parsley Says:

    I am wanting to see this having seen a production of it at the Barbican a while ago

    The picture you have taken makes the staging look pretty bad

    How is the setting with all the lighting and projections?


    • notesofanidealist Says:

      As I say, this is a picture of the space not of this production. You really need to sit in the two rows of seats I indicate to form an opinion of the lighting and projections–and I didn’t, so I can’t really judge.

  2. Matthew Murray Says:

    Certainly the quickest review (I watched tonight, it was the first preview). Not a bad summary of the plot, although commenting on the nihilism in Kane’s reading is a little like writing “Why the long pause, Pinter?” – naif response is not a substitute for considered critical opinion. I guess that’s the point- this is a spare complex text which in my opinion is given an honest, bold staging which stays with you and requires time to percolate (longer than the few hours I’ve had). In summary: an original play for our times staged with skill and written with rather more mastery than the reviewer above realises. But ideally, he’ll go away and read something by the author now…;)

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