Andromache, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Eternal battle of the sexes
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's perhaps just as well, after the marathon event that opened the Edinburgh Festival's theatre programme, that Luk and Peter Perceval have sliced through Racine to produce a fascinating, cutting-edge version of Andromache lasting merely an hour. In fact, it is such a bold presentation, delivered with such stark intensity by Berlin's Schaubühne, that it actually feels as if a full evening's drama has been packed in.

It's perhaps just as well, after the marathon event that opened the Edinburgh Festival's theatre programme, that Luk and Peter Perceval have sliced through Racine to produce a fascinating, cutting-edge version of Andromache lasting merely an hour. In fact, it is such a bold presentation, delivered with such stark intensity by Berlin's Schaubühne, that it actually feels as if a full evening's drama has been packed in.

What stays most vividly fixed in the mind is the stage image devised by the director, Luk Perceval, and the designer, Annette Kurz. The curtain rises slowly on the play's five characters, poised, like a Greek sculpture, along the top of a harsh, grooved granite wall - an altar on which people are sacrificed, perhaps, or from which they can fall from grace and get seriously hurt. Surrounding their island is a dangerous sea of broken green bottles, symbolising the shattered world of Andromache - forced to marry Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, the man who killed her husband, Hector, in order to save her infant son.

There is no escape for the three men and two women who remain uncomfortably isolated there for the play's duration, the soft folds of their flowing skirts in marked contrast to the hardness of everything else. Variations on that theme occur as they adopt different poses, formations and shapes, viewed in profile, head-on, and in extreme physical contortions - especially in the case of the athletic Pyrrhus (Mark Waschke), hanging upside down by his feet from the wall, smashing bottles against it in desperation and frustration. Adding to the intensity, there is no sense of place or time.

The play is delivered in German, with surtitles, and although the actors wear microphones - giving their deeply personal expressions a surreal distance - it is not always easy to identify immediately who is speaking. Indeed, the crossfire of words is so rapid, and the material so kaleidoscopic, that at times it feels as though we're engaged in several intimate crossed-line phone conversations. Interestingly, the Percevals chose Racine's French classical tragedy to experiment on, in preference to Euripides, apparently because of the former's focus on the love element; the latter's drama is "more of a heroic version, a propaganda play".

As Luk Perceval points out in a programme note, he has translated the play into a show-down between East and West in terms of Andromache's unconditional love - her willingness to sacrifice herself seen more as a Far Eastern concept - and the more destructive "make me happy or I'll kill you" Western notion of love that Perceval attributes to the other characters.

If that is not always entirely clear in the production, it is nonetheless a powerfully theatrical piece of work, with the characters' relationships - driven by passion, hatred, jealousy and desperation - mostly embroiled in constant physical and mental confrontation.

Yvon Jansen is excellent as Hermione, thrust between Pyrrhus and Ronald Kukulies's Orestes. Pylades looks on ambiguously, while Andromache, brave widow and crushed victim, beautifully portrayed by Jutta Lampe, sits it out in compelling, numbed misery.

Comments