4 October 2011

Phaedra's Love at the Arcola Theatre

It was a sudden decision suggested by an email then allowed by a free evening to go to the opening night of Phaedra's Love at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston.

My usual lack of preparation in reading nothing about the play beforehand was enhanced this time by knowing nothing of the myth either.

So when the story began with a bloke, surrounded by the sort of mess you associate with teenagers' bedrooms, wanking in to a sock I was a little surprised and also a little shocked.

It soon turned out that this was Hippolytus and that he is the step-son of Phaedra, putting us firmly in Greek mythology despite the modern setting and the rolling news of recent wars playing on the wall above the stage at the start.

We soon learn that Hippolytus is a nasty piece of work, extremely selfish and callous in his relationships and yet, despite this, he has an awful lot of relationships. And Phaedra loves him too, and not in a motherly way.

Having met Hippo and Phae separately we have the first big scene on Hippo's birthday when Phae comes to give him his present. A blow-job. Hippo is not the least bit surprised by this not is he grateful, asking for his promised birthday present afterwards.

The consequences of that act unfold and we have a suicide, a couple of killings, more sexual acts of various kinds and another suicide. It's really obvious when the play has got to the end.

Sitting in the front-row of the small (but cute) theatre made this uncomfortable watching at times but if I'd wanted comfort I'd have stayed at home and watched Downton Abbey.

The overall effect is a tumult and turmoil of emotion, the violent sort of emotion that leads to suicides and killings. Amongst this sits Hippo, the calm in the eye of the storm, almost devoid of emotion as the tragedies mount up around him.

Phaedra's Love is a short play, which is probably just as well given the battering you get from watching it, and it is performed without an interval so there is no respite in ice cream either.

The effect is rather like a Belgian fruit beer, a pleasant assault on the senses that can only be taken in small doses.

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