Euripides is a personal favourite of the three great Athenian tragedians. His style is edgy and ambiguous, forward thinking and bold – much like this production. Director Michael Dean’s vision for the play was fresh and although it was messy at times, it seemed to align very well with Euripides’ original text, Hippolytus.
At the opening of the play, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, explains that Hippolytus has sworn chastity and refuses to revere her. Instead, he honors Artemis, goddess of the hunt. In vengeance, she inspires Phaedra, his stepmother, to fall in love with him.
The set and costume design was exquisite for the most part. It was baroque meets steam punk, a kind of decadent grunge. Unfortunately, this style only extended to three quarters of the cast – with Hippolytus and Theseus looking unusually out of place. However, to Catherine Steele’s credit, the design was nicely suited to the backdrop of the Tap Gallery – it was a very artistic approach to design. A little more cohesion between the actors and the design might’ve strengthened both – as it stands, the design seems to overpower the performance.
In this day and age of more frequent gender experimentation and role reversal it was an interesting concept to have Theseus played by Katrina Rautenberg, but not a new one. It does beg the question of why, if not for the betterment of the character (which unfortunately it wasn’t), should Theseus be played by a woman. Although Rautenberg’s emotional investment was strong, it wasn’t enough to convince me that it was a necessary or beneficial decision.
Melissa Brownlow was fantastic as the Nurse, but Phaedra (Danielle Barnes) and Hippolytus (Richard Hilliar) were sadly overshadowed by the chorus (Sinead Curry, Cheyne Fynn, Nathaniel Scotcher, Jennifer White), which was beautifully choreographed (Rachel Weiner) and performed with such intensity. The chorus carried the show, and made up for some of the main characters’ unclear intentions.
There were some interesting musical ideas, which occasionally surfaced, but at times it seemed to be competing with the performers and was slightly distracting. That was probably the overall theme – great ideas that competed too much with one another. There is a great vision that just needs to be edited.