Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Thursday, 23 May 2013
Phèdre, Bell Shakes, May 23, 2013 ***
Written by Jean
Racine, translated by Ted Hughes
Bell Shakespeare production
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, May 22 until June 2, 2013
Kate Herbert on May 23
The review will not be published in, and was not written for Herald Sun. KH
17th century French tragedy may be based in Ancient Greek mythology, but Bell
Shakespeare’s version of Phèdre
shares its themes with soap operas: incest, infidelity, chastity and a woman’s
lust for a younger man.
McClements is brittle and traumatised as Phèdre, the distraught wife of King Theseus (Marco Chiappi),
who is driven to distraction by her long-standing, secret passion for her
stepson, Hippolytus (Edmund
her husband is proclaimed dead after a six-month absence, Phèdre confesses to her nurse,
Oenone (Julie Forsyth) that her unnamed sickness is lust for Hippolytus, the
stepson she abused and exiled for years.
Oenone’s encouragement, Phèdre
rashly and fervently declares her lusty obsession to the horrified and chaste
Hippolytus – just before Theseus returns, alive and well. As in any Greek
tragedy, it all goes horribly wrong from there.
Hughes’ 20th century translation loses the lyricism and rhyme of
Racine’s original, but makes the meaning more concrete and modern.
Peter Evans, confines the actors in a claustrophobic, ruined, ancient portico (Designed by Anna Conrdingley, lighting by Paul Jackson),
with a roof that is open to the elements and the ire of the Gods.
production begins with a painfully static and problematic opening act in which
the actors barely move and never address each other directly, using an
understated vocal style that works against the dramatic.
the following acts contain more emotional and physical action and McClements,
Forsyth and Chiappi all deliver impassioned speeches that erupt with blistering
or poignant emotion.
is a prowling, unpredictable feline, made wretched by unrequited lust and
finally made devastated by blazing jealousy and vengeance.
presence is powerful as the wronged father and betrayed husband, as he paces
the stage with angry dignity.
the loyal Oenone, Forsyth finds moments of humour to balance the affecting
scenes when her beloved mistress accuses and exiles her, and Bert Labonte
portrays the knowing depsair of Théramène.
is less effective, being constantly surly and sullen and lacking the princely dignity and control needed for
Hippolytus. Similarly, as Hippolytus’ betrothed, Aricia, Abby Earl seems uncomfortable with her
character, as well as the language and style of the play.
production has limited dynamic and emotional range and Hughes’ script lacks the
poetry of Racine’s original, but this production gives us the chance to see
Racine who rarely performed in English in Australia.