Berenice, Donmar Warehouse, London
Wednesday 03 October 2012
The English theatrical spirit revels in indecorum, in laying banana skins under the paths of the high-minded, in developing a proliferation of sub-plots and in generally reserving rhyme for the comic antics of pantomime doggerel.
So there's the perennial headache of how to adapt the seventeenth-century neo-classical tragedies of Racine with their grandeur of manner, their streamlined obedience to the unities and their elevated alexandrine couplets.
Director Josie Rourke and her translator, the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist, Alan Hollinghurst, come up with a largely satisfying solution to the problem in this revival of Berenice, a tragedy that untypically ends in tears and renunciation rather than in revenge and gore.
Titus, having just succeeded his father as Emperor of Rome, knows that he is now doomed to banish his beloved Berenice, since the public will stomach neither a foreigner nor a queen. As he agonises over love and duty and tries to summon the courage to confront her, he turns unwittingly for help to his royal friend Antiochus who is himself besotted by her.
Racine, in his defence of the play, referred to the “majestic sadness which is all the pleasure of tragedy” and that mood is skilfully captured here by the blank verse translation and the performances that manage to give the drama a non-declamatory intimate scale, while preserving a sense of the Racinian tension between formality and emotional ferocity.
Barefoot in red and gold, regal yet frisson-inducingly flesh-and-blood, Anne-Marie Duff's splendid Berenice moves from a dreamy rapture of baseless optimism, through bewildered hurt and scorn at the vacillations of her lover, to a glitteringly willed radiance when she recruits the two men to a future of pain and self-sacrifice.
An exhausted-looking Stephen Campbell Moore brings home both the gruelling nature of Titus's high-stakes dilemma and his cowardly shiftiness, while Dominic Rowan adroitly alerts you to the faint edge of farce in the fate of the hapless Antiochus.
Indecision and failures of courage can be wryly highlighted by shifts of direction on the weird wooden staircase that rears over Lucy Osborne's sandpit set. And I loved the way that Hollinghurst's translation, having eschewed rhyme throughout, held one back for Berenice's final declaration when she says that the world will see this trio as a type of “the most tender and unhappy love/That it could bear the doleful history of”. At once clinching and (in its word order) jarring, a perfect couplet for a tragedy that ends in an atmosphere of awkward, bleak survival.
To 24 November; 0844 871 7624
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
A very timely Great Train Robbery and a frantic 24 Hours in A&E among the highlights
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Arts & Ents blogs
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, film review
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
The Wolf of Wall Street, film review: 'A lurid, profanity bespattered movie'
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
- 4 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- 5 Status: Wet - Woman walks off a pier while checking Facebook on her phone
- < Previous
- Next >