Review of the play (Epidaurus, July 2009)
The National Theater’s production of Phedre was setup for success from the beginning: a shinning star (Helen Mirren), a great cast and a wonderful adaptation by Ted Hughes. Thus, it wasn’t really a surprise that all that watched the play in the ancient theater of Epidaurus treated themselves to great theater.
The love of Phedre for her step-son Hippolytus is clear from the start that it is not going to end well. Racine doesn’t guide his heroin with anything else than blind passion that drives her from her confession in the beginning of the play, until the tragic ending. Around her, the rest of the characters don’t seem to be for her anything more than obstacles towards the realization of her goal: conquer Hippolytus or take him away from all the women in the world.
Director Nicholas Hytner has taken a minimalistic approach to the play: simpicity is predominant in the decor and costumes, while music & light play their role very discreetly. It is clear that the production is really rellying on the cast and text and the truth is that it achieves its objective. Helen Mirren plays Phedre with consistency and is nothing less than impressive in the way she loses control in-front of her object of desire, a great Hippolytus (Dominic Cooper). Nevertheless, what is really making this production stand out is the supporting cast: Oenone (Margaret Tyzack), Theramene (John Shrapnel) but clearly the jewel in this play is staggering Aricia by Ruth Negga that is nothing short of outstanding and is leaving having won a place in our hearts.