I have only one regret about Phaedra.
I'm not sure why I'm so surprised by the play. I have seen Rough Magic's work before and it's always been of great quality.
I'd also watched some of the cast in other productions so knew their pedigree. It is the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival after all, the show has sold out and I've rarely seen anything in the Project Arts Centre that I didn't like, so my reaction to the piece, some 24 hours on, still bemuses me.
I hadn't read beyond the brochure description - "the placing of a Classic story in modern Ireland ". Phaedra is a woman who loathes her husband, the scurrilous Theseus, but is in love/lust with her stepson, Hippolytus. The basic story is how all characters react to this.
This new version by Hilary Fannin and Ellen Cranitch does bring it to a modern setting, but with no compromise on the strength of the story. Very relevant, it focusses on the damage that excesses can bring, even if you don't think you're dependent on them. It's a sobering, chilling tale - no light hearted drama this, yet the theatrical experience overwhelms all that. The standing ovation at the end was well deserved.
The story is important in this play and is treated with the respect it deserves. I wonder if this is the influence of Lynne Parker. This has been a project in development for years and it shows. From the entirely impressive spectacle of the set to the fantastic live soundtrack performed by onstage musicians to the incredible costumes, I was instantly bewitched by it all, seduced by the language and feasting on the sumptuos spectacle presented to me.
It never lost me, even for a few minutes. Admittedly I scribbled notes, but haphazardly, afraid I'd miss something on stage. The script for Phaedra is magnificent - it's one of the few I'd reread to enjoy the turns of phrase. This isn't classical speak - there's plenty of modern references and you don't need to even know who Euripides is to get this. Instead sit back and let the vista presented to you wash over you like the sea we never see.
Of all the characters and actors on stage yesterday, I have to single out Sarah Green's portrayal of Ismene. I'd previously seen Sarah in Gúna Nua's Little Gem at the Peacock and thought she excelled in the role but yesterday, for me at least, she was the one grounding factor in the play - in a funny way her character was the story - as damaged as we are by our own actions, as affected as we are by others, as many mistakes as we learn, see and experience, we're still greedy, hungry or stupid enough to attempt gain at the expense of others and ourselves. Ismene was lewd, crude and common and Sarah was a wonderful choice to bring this to the stage. Definitely one to watch.
That's not to diminish in any way the other performances. Stephen Brennan's Theseus was abhorrent, while Michéle Forbes was a wonderful casting as Enone - perfectly played. Gemma Reeves and Allen Leech had a believable and enviable chemistry as Hippolytus and Aricia while Catherine Walker's Phaedra was a pathetic creature, perfectly pitched and acted; wonderfully performed.
Fionnuala Gill as Artemis too put in a brilliant performance - and the inclusion of the singers - Rory Musgrave and Cathy White - added an unexpected dimension that reminded me of the story's origins. This is a hugely ambitious production that is professionally done - a true testament to the quality and experience that Rough Magic has.
My one regret about Phaedra - other than that I won't get to see it again at this Festival (and I would) - is that I sat too close to the stage. Sit at least five or six rows back to get a full view of the stage and incredible set. You won't regret it.
Well done Rough Magic. Theatre at its finest.
Darragh is Communications Manager of Boards.ie, entertainment and events blogger in Ireland.
Phaedra runs at Project Arts Centre Sept 30 - Oct 10