18 July 2009

Phèdre at the National Theatre

Mixed feelings about this. I was really keen to see a production of Racine - any play, any language - but this seemed like neither one thing nor the other. It had the simplicity of staging you'd expect: some generic palace imagery, set against a cliff face and the suggestion of rough sandy beach and sea, furnished with a few chairs of a design that suggests classical simplicity combined with wealth. Similarly the costumes were a bit generic - avoiding any specific period, but allowing, for example, the concept of "army warrior" to be easily connoted. Nothing wrong with the physical action, either, although I thought the public displays of affection between Aricia and Hippolytus went too far. I mean that they made her character too readable, in a way that the text doesn't entirely support, and that they certainly would not have happened on the stage in Racine's time (that's not so serious a concern).

The main problem was that this largely immaculately faithfully racinian staging was allied to a script, and a performance of the script, that was (inevitably) very shakespearian in its imagery and rhythm. It would be foolish to expect a translation to use alexandrines, but some equivalent of the formality and legacy present in alexandrines would be appropriate. At times, there seemed to be echoes of alliterative verse, but mainly the words were sadly lacking in any music. Actually, shakespearian is wrong. It was much more formless than that. I'll be commenting further on translation issues in the other blog.

So my general feeling is let down. Add to that the fact that the amount of coughing in the theatre made it feel like a swine flu party for the literati, and I'm sorry to say it was an underwhelming night out.

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