Phaedra's Love, Old Vic, Bristol
Friday 04 November 2005
Phaedra is consumed by passion for her stepson Hippolytus, a slob whom we meet on a sofa bathed in the light of a porn video, a hamburger resting on his chest. He blows his nose on his old socks, the ones, that is, that he hasn't just masturbated into. He spends much of his time racing a remote-control car and ignoring presents from his adoring subjects.
In a line that shows Kane's underrated gift for comedy, a doctor tells Phaedra that "there's nothing wrong with him medically, he's just very unpleasant". Hippolytus is in dire need of a stint at Sandhurst, you might think. Phaedra is obsessed with this unfeeling pig who utters gobbets of schlocky nihilism, if he says anything at all. She pleads for sex and ends up fellating him, after which he thoughtfully tells her he has gonorrhoea. I sat there wondering what Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard would have made of the scene.
Apathy and passion rage under one roof. Rejected, Phaedra's accusation of rape and suicide brings the wrath of his father Theseus down on him. From then on, the drama goes down a Titus Andronicus-like avenue of horrors. Hippolytus never repents his atheism, despite a blow job from the priest who visits him in jail - one of several moments that you feel the writer included because she had a reputation to keep up. Theseus duly returns to exact his revenge, and Hippolytus's genitals end up on the barbecue.
The cast is pretty good. Laurence Penry-Jones exudes a bored listlessness as Hippolytus, but Diana Kent's well-groomed Phaedra didn't convince me that she burned with lust for this epic wanker. Alexandra Moen's Strophe (Hippolytus's sister) and Dan Mullane as Theseus contribute to a grand throat-slitting finale, but otherwise don't have a lot to do.
A writer apparently more honoured abroad than at home, Kane's play reiterates Blasted's Bosnian theme that there is nothing you can show on stage that is quite as ghastly or as savage as reality itself. But the production could do with a more Jacobean sense of theatrics. If anything, Anne Tipton's pared-down production needs to be more revoltingly bloody, more poetically searing. In Kane's gruesome world, you can't stint on the ketchup.
Until tomorrow (0117-987 7877); then at the Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7511), 16 to 25 November
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