THEATRE / '1953' - White Bear, Kennington SE11

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The Independent Culture
Note the quotation marks in the title: this is not 1953 as we remember it, but '1953' - same year, different universe. Craig Raine's version of Andromaque transfers the action to a mythical recent past, when Britain has fallen to the Axis. For London read Troy, for Hitler, Agamemnon, and for Mussolini, Achilles. Now, Count Klaus Maria von Orestes arrives in Rome to demand the life of Angus LeSkye, last claimant to the British throne. But Vittorio, Mussolini's son and King of Italy, loves the boy's mother, Annette. He can't marry her, though, because he is betrothed to the German Princess Ira (formerly Orestes' lover). Despite his indifference, Ira is hot for Vittorio; Orestes, meanwhile, still hankers after her.

The parallels with Racine are clear: but what Raine has created is not a modern counterpart to classical tragedy, but a steamy saga of machismo, violence and sexual obsession that has more to do with Len Deighton's SS-GB (which posited roughly the same historical situation). And Raine's verse, characteristically full of mildly surprising simile and uneasy dips into colloquialism, sits awkwardly on the tongue.

All the same, for its British stage premiere '1953' deserves something more polished and emotionally high-powered than Crux Theatre's production. The obvious restrictions of budget and space wouldn't matter if the cast showed more understanding of the play - if they projected a sense of inner passions spilling over. With a limited expressive vocabulary, they end up shouting a lot.

To 9 Aug (071-735 8664)

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