Venue: Drama Barn
Starring: Leo Amiel, Tom Ellis, Laura Henderson, Rob Donnell
Though the initial performance of Phaedra flopped when it was performed in 1677, it has since been hailed as the greatest of Jean Racine’s plays. The 1677 failure of his masterpiece caused Racine to sever all connections to the stage; having already been so traumatized by a bad performance, it is doubtful that he would have survived this one. The discomfort that Leo Amiel showed at being on stage was distressing, and the feeble attempts by Tom Ellis to inject characterisation could not save the lethargic opening of the play.
The character of Phaedra was grotesque and exaggerated, but it was only by the strained efforts of Laura Henderson, who played Phaedra, that energy was injected into the play. Thankfully, in the second half of this production, Rob Donell came to her rescue, displaying a range of emotions all the more impressive by comparison with the other actors. The final speech by Phaedra was well delivered and verged on touching.
The set of five transparent white curtains served to obscure the actors, widening the separation of audience and action. It was a beautiful and interesting take on the theme of calculated ambiguities present, and could possibly have worked with a better cast.
The tragedy of this production rested not so much in the action of the play, but rather in the appalling lack of acting ability.