This is a brilliant production.
I’ve made no bones about the fact I don’t like the Greeks. (Not the current ones. The ones who died about 2,500 years ago. And, no, the bones comment wasn’t an intentional pun.)
The great Greek dramatists explored ‘universals’, or at least that’s what we’re tempted to think. Distance has lent them a grandeur. But they wrote in a society every bit as fractured and filled with contention as ours, and much of what we have raised to the status of classics were in their day part of a hard fought cultural war.
In Greek society one of the great divides was that between the philosophy of rationality and the theatre of fate and deep dark forces. Socrates and Euripides were contemporaries.
When I see current productions of the ancient Greeks, I ask ‘Why are we interested in their myths?’
From a purely personal perspective, I’m suspicious of any view that sees the world as ruled by fate and irrationality. It seems like just one more way of disempowering ourselves, of trying to mask the fact that we enjoy lives of extraordinary privilege, and hence of unprecedented responsibility. If the Furies were to drag me off today and I was to die horribly, blind and in exile, it would not override the fact that up until this point I’ve lived 49 years without ever being hungry except through choice.
But I started by suggesting that Michael Dean’s production of Euripides’ play is brilliant. And it is. It’s extraordinarily inventive and a visual treat. The cast are marvellous. The individualised characters (Danielle Baynes as Phaedra, Melissa Brownlow as the Nurse, Richard Hilliar as Hippolytus and Katrina Rautenberg as Theseus) are played with a beautiful strength, which powerfully highlights the tragedy of the conclusion. The Chorus (Sinead Curry, Cheyne Fynn, Nathaniel Scotcher and Jennifer White) is wonderfully mischievous, both fun and foreboding. The use of pop music is frighteningly effective, suggesting the hidden menace lying behind our seemingly harmless daydreams and fantasies.
Phaedra is a reworking of Euripides’ Hippolytus. It’s a myth of the power of sexual desire. In the ancient Greek world, humans are the playthings of the gods. Phaedra’s passion is a divine punishment.
So what’s our modern myth of sexuality? A sort of flat biological reductionism. The consequence of our decidedly anti-existential myth is that sexuality is robbed of both its magic and danger. And where did our dull unhelpful myth come from? From the victory of the rational viewpoint. So perhaps the Greeks are worth a revisit.
Phaedra (based on Hippolytus by Euripides)
TAP Gallery til 26th July