Sarah Kane’s standing amongst the British theatre establishment has enjoyed a dramatic rise since her untimely death at the age of 28, an event which, in a strange way, inextricably changes the way we view her work. Her shock in-yer-face style may be the most evident feature of Phaedra’s Love, with its blast of casual fellatio and incestual rape, but Kane adapts Euripides and Racine to prophetically capture an underlying, enigmatic terror that lies untouched at the heart of a very modern society. In Kane’s doomed, nightmarish world, the masses are fickle, capricious, too easily pleased to realise the increasing corruption at the upper echelons of the social order, something eerily relevant after a year of uprisings and rebellions.
Annie Price excels as the eponymous queen, torn between her obsession for her wretched stepson Hippolytus, and her duty to her country, and her absent husband Theseus. For her there is never a way out, and Phaedra is shackled by a shattering conclusion that she will never be fully satisfied by anything. Bec Evans C also is riveting in later scenes as Phaedra’s long-suffering daughter Strophe, haunted by her own unresolved feelings towards her stepbrother.
As for Hippolytus himself, Toby Almy plays him to be as repulsive a character as Kane wished him to be – an anti-social wretch who gorges on comfort food and watches porn all day, while masturbating into the same sock he blows his nose into. And yet there is a spark missing from his performance, a lack of vitality that means it’s impossible to understand why he’s so attractive to Phaedra and the other girls around him. His performance is more of an emotionless zombie than a young man struck by the moral wasteland of the world.
In this and other respects, the sharpness of Kane’s play is certainly diluted somewhat in this MR5C production, one that, at the very least, is rough around the edges. It works, if only just, although there are some awkward directorial choices that simply can’t be glossed over. Chorus scenes were slackly choreographed, and the play lacked flow and slickness for large parts of its running time, punctuated as it is by strange musical interludes which drag for far too long, hampering the experience of a play that is more punchy than contemplative. Still, a brave choice of a difficult play that is far from an unsuccessful adaptation.
‘Phaedra’s Love’, produced by Fleur Wheatley and Luce Dreznin, is directed by Tash Edwards and assistant directed by Katie O’Leary. The production is showing in the Lady Windsor Studio Theatre and runs from Wednesday 14th March to Saturday 17th March. Doors open at 7.15 for a 7.30 start, tickets are £3 for Dramsoc members, £4 for students, and £5 for others and can be bought on the door or in advance: http://www.ubutheatre.com/production.php?prod=27.