Couple of mummy's boys are smart move

First Night: Britannicus Albery Theatre London

IT'S TO be hoped that Toby Stephens has less trouble with his real-life mum Maggie Smith than he's been experiencing with his fictional mothers on stage lately.

Playing Hippolytus, in Jonathan Kent's current production of Phedre, he beautifully signals the insecure, stiff-jawed heroics of a high-minded youth confronted by the desperate incestuous passion of his stepmother.

A matriarch continues to spell trouble for him in the same director's excellent modern-dress staging of Racine's Britannicus, an artfully chosen companion piece which joins Phedre in rep at the Albery.

This time Stephens plays the young emperor Nero, six months into a virtuous reign that will shortly turn into a bloody tyranny.

He owes his eminence entirely to his mother Agrippina who has committed all manner of crimes to put him on the throne, even to the extent of inducing her dying second husband to disinherit his own son, Britannicus, in favour of hers.

But Nero is beginning to grow restive at his mother's power-mad hold over him and he has fallen in love with Julia, who was intended for Britannicus. In revenge for his coolness Agrippina determines to join forces with the rival she wants ousted for his sake.

From his first bustling entrance, nervously shooting his cuffs and attended by some brutal-looking guards, Stephens's emperor is a wonderfully sinister/pathetic mix of arrestedness and assertiveness.

Through the clenched, almost Cowardesque delivery and the stiff, would- be imperious pose, you keep catching glimpses of a sulky, unsure little boy who looks as if he expects to be rebuked.

References to his mother's power send him into paroxisms of near-violence; it's significant, though, that while his hands hover hungrily over Joanna Roth's Julia, something inhibits them from actually touching her.

The effect of the performance is uneasily mirth-provoking and this is right because it brings home the dangerous indignity of Nero's position.

All tortured war-clawing guilt as the eponymous step-mother in Phedre, Diana Rigg here presents a lethally sophisticated Agrippina whose lofty derisiveness and arrogance remind you that this actress is a supreme mistress of high-comedy.

The long private session with her son reduces him to apparent tearful submission and Rigg's switch back to smiling cuddling possessiveness excites audience laughter in its brazen speed and totality.

But the laughter quickly dies because her assurance is quite unfounded, and, in the end, proves fatal for Kevin McKidd's duped and distraught Britannicus.

There's a beautifully sardonic edge to Jonathan Kent's fine production. Pairing this play with Phedre is a smart and thought-provoking move, producing a season that could be collectively entitled, with apologies, to the famous sitcom,Some Sons Do 'Ave 'Em.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone