Theatre: When all the world's on stage

The critics

The theatre newspaper The Stage, which has a reputation for mentioning as many cast members as possible (well, it helps sales), will have its habit tested with Les Danaides, an international touring production, which last week played the draughty expanse of the Birmingham Indoor Arena (next week, it moves to the Fruitmarket in Glasgow). Les Danaides has a cast of 107.

The story demands it: 50 young women, daughters of Danaus, flee North Africa to escape the clutches of 50 male cousins, the sons of Egyptos, who want them as wives. The Danaides arrive on the shores of Greece looking for asylum. The Argive King, Pelasgos, finds him-self faced with a human- rights issue and an immigration problem. Soon after, the 50 hot-blooded cousins arrive and all hell breaks loose.

Of the 70 plays Aeschylus wrote, only seven survive. One of those, The Suppliants, is the first in the Danaid tetralogy, the other three of which have been (for the most part) lost. The Romanian director Silviu Purcarete has recreated this tetralogy filling in the missing bits. The result is Greek plays performed in French by Romanians. The result is also the most visually stunning production of the year.

Purcarete pushes community drama - or communities drama - on to a scale that matches the size, grandeur and (paradoxically) the economy of Aeschylus. In Purcarete's hands, large groups are not the traditional lumpen mass but a vast liquid pictorial force. The 100 actors are raw material, with which he conjures up one set-piece after another.

Numbers count. Footsteps, cries, whispers and sighs ripple out across the stage: we might be caught in a hall of mirrors. Whole nations seem to occupy the stage. Each Danaid has a suitcase and Purcarete turns these cases into high walls, a cemetery, and, finally, a row of collapsing dominoes.

After agreeing to marry their cousins, the 50 women sit by their cases, undressing, washing their necks with flannels. In a different light, upstage, 50 Egyptos have their stag party. It's an extraordinary spectacle. When the men join the women we watch 50 couples disappear under the women's nightdresses which then become small tents. Each tent contains a lamp, and as the Gods (with white faces, white suits or dresses), who have sat on the sidelines at illuminated tables, wander through this camp, the lamps go out one by one. That night the Danaides murder their husbands. In this sequence - epic and intimate - Purcarete matches the expanse and other-worldiness of his source.

A former car park, in a disused viaduct beneath an old Halifax mill, with a concrete floor, steel girders and the sound of dripping water: it's not somewhere that Franco Zeffirelli would recognise as a setting for Romeo and Juliet. Yet this is the home of Northern Broadsides, and their new production constitutes - along with Tim Supple's touring version of The Comedy of Errors - the best Shakespeare around. In sharp contrast to the larger subsidised companies, Northern Broadsides have a vigorous aesthetic, a way of doing Shakespeare that is revelatory.

Direction and design are kept to a minimum. There are very few lighting cues. The audience sit on two sides facing one another. The actors wear modern dress, but not the sort of stereotypical clothes that prejudge character. Quick and unsentimental, they never slow up the verse with naturalistic acting, which would duplicate emotions that are self-evident. They trust the text, carry us along on the rhythm of the verse, and, by making the arguments really matter, they transport us effortlessly from the gloom of the viaduct to the heat of Verona.

From the moment Barrie Rutter spells out the plot in the prologue this production restores the thrill of narrative: the rapid, jostling succession of events that throws up its own surprises. Shakespeare's promised "two hours' traffic" here comes in at a miraculous 2 hours 10 minutes.

The spartan venue, set and props are not gimmicks: they release new energies. Juliet's balcony is the top rung of some scaffolding. Mercutio and Tybalt fight with industrial mill tools: sickle and bale-grabber. At the Capulets' party they dance in clogs. Romeo gets out of bed with Juliet and puts on his black Y-fronts.

John Gully makes a very likeable boy-next-door Romeo, a ready target for the mockery of his friends. Michelle Hardwick is a remarkably forthright and impassioned Juliet, a young and voluble blonde (the sort of Leeds lass who wants to know exactly what sort of "satisfaction" Romeo is after). She knows her mind and we do too. If every student could see this startlingly clear-sighted production they would have no need for Coles' Notes.

After the deserved acclaim for Nuremberg, his powerful staging of excerpts from the Nuremberg Trials, Nicolas Kent revives that production with a new companion piece, Srebenica. This dramatises excerpts from the War Crimes Trial in the Hague this year, where the case was presented against Dr Karadzic and General Mladic. The testimonies relate to the mass execution of thousands of Muslim men in July 1995 following the fall of Srebenica. It was, in the words of the war correspondent Martin Bell, "the greatest war crime in Europe since 1945".

Kent uses the same technique as in Nuremberg: precise, understated acting in a realistic courtroom environment, where quiet-spoken, polite voices worry about the headphone and translations ("Can you hear me in Serbo- Croatian?") and interrupt the cross-examinations with old-world courtesies ("For your comfort, there's a glass of water").

Only 65 minutes long, Srebenica culminates in the testimony of a former member of the Bosnian Serb army, tormented with remorse, who was one of the execution squad ("To be quite frank, I'd rather not know how many people I killed"). It would be hard to overestimate the impact of hearing these events recounted in detail and in this manner (away from the blare of headlines and bulletins). No one leaving the Tricycle Theatre could fail to compare the world's reaction to what emerged at Nuremberg with the world's reaction to what happened only 15 months ago in a UN- protected "safe haven".

The joint production between Birmingham Rep and the National of Ben Jonson's comedy of deception, The Alchemist, which has now moved south, turns out to be a bit of con itself: a glittering cast (Tim Pigott-Smith, Simon Callow and Josie Lawrence), a baroque post-modern William Dudley set, plenty of high pressure "comedy acting" - and remarkably few laughs.

Theatre details: Going Out, page 14.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little