National Theatre, London, until April 8
The whole point of the National Theatre is that it should have the courage every now and again to fail. Phaedra, written by Simon Stone, purportedly “after” the versions from Euripides, Seneca and Racine, is a case in point.
Forget about its pretensions to be a modern take on how the wife of King
Theseus of Athens develops a fatal attraction for her stepson, Hippolytus.
This is ultimately little more than soap opera about what happens when a darkly attractive outsider – Assaad Bouab – enters the smug, complacent
and utterly frigid household of a politician (Janet McTeer) and her husband (Paul Chahidi) and proceeds to have affairs first with her and then with her daughter (Mackenzie Davis).
It is well-acted, but Simon Stone the writer has clearly made a terrible enemy in Simon Stone the director. His alter ego does everything he can to frustrate his own ambitions.
The director relays vast chunks of the script as text against a black canvas, a strain on the eyesight. Worse, the show is staged in a vast revolving glass box like a ship in a bottle that means set changes take ages, plunging the auditorium into darkness for far too long, and was to blame, in addition, for the players taking an age to emerge for their curtain call. With its central theme of doomed, forbidden love, it’s a pretty odd play to put on around the time of Valentine’s Day and one that collapses under the weight of its own pretentiousness.