Hecuba, Albery Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Euripides' Hecuba is the tragedy that starts where other tragedies leave off: before the play opens, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, has seen her husband and all but one of her sons slaughtered in the Greek sack of the city, and she and her daughters have been enslaved.

Euripides' Hecuba is the tragedy that starts where other tragedies leave off: before the play opens, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, has seen her husband and all but one of her sons slaughtered in the Greek sack of the city, and she and her daughters have been enslaved. After that, it's downhill all the way. The only ray of light for Hecuba is the chance to avenge herself on her son's murderer, which she does with a ferocity and relish extreme even by the standards of Greek tragedy.

The title role is an extraordinary opportunity for an actress: Clare Higgins strolled off with last year's Olivier award for best actress in Jonathan Kent's staging at the Donmar. This RSC production was to have marked Vanessa Redgrave's return to Stratford after more than 40 years, though the Stratford run was cancelled because of her ill health. What's more, it is in a new translation by Tony Harrison: surely something special was to be expected.

Perhaps a degree of let-down was inevitable; but Laurence Boswell's production is deeply disappointing. Things start well enough. The audience is greeted by an appropriately monumental set (by Es Devlin), dominated by a vast cylinder in what looks like grooved concrete; this revolves to create a sort of brutalist amphitheatre.

But the single most disastrous decision is to have the chorus of Trojan women sing their lines. As well as sounding intrusive, the device exposes a streak of clumsiness in Harrison's text - littered with intrusive alliterations (he is stuck on hard "G"s - "girl's gullet gashed open"), and resonances with contemporary Iraq are thickly underlined by repetition of "coalition".

It doesn't help that Mick Sands's music slips too often into a kind of Hollywood generic oriental. When Redgrave also launches into song, it becomes momentarily quite painful.

The first half never achieves the depths of feeling it should. None of the performances, Redgrave included, achieves the necessary clarity of feeling.

Odd moments suggest a plainer, stronger production fighting to get out; but the audience's engagement has been squandered.

To 7 May (0870 060 6621)

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