Startle and shock are the emotions that brew in your stomach after DramSoc’s production of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love. Momentarily glued to your seat, uncertain whether to just leave or to let the play’s events slowing digest, director Moira-Anne Bender offers a faithful approach to Kane’s brutally gory play. This modern tragedy is a twisted retelling of classic Roman play Phaedra by Seneca that follows Phaedra’s destructive obsession with her cynical, nihilistic and depressed step-son Hippolytus, their affair leading to a fatal finale.
The audience is forced to face the horrors of the play’s realities
Bender directs the play to the nightmarish madness to which it concludes with tactful pacing. “If there could have been more moments like this,” Hippolytus says as he reaches his disturbing end. The audience thinks the opposite of this while watching but remains seated, grossly enchanted. The production of Phaedra’s Love has the audience intimately engaged with the production by having seating on stage. The audience is forced to face the horrors of the play’s realities, following the in-your-face theatre movement that Kane has been attached too. It presents the violence and sexuality without flinching.
The play has an expressionist-era set design, featuring black metal bars which enclose a filthy condensed room, containing just a TV and red couch. Hippolytus, the lead, portrayed by Seán Butler, spends most of his time sitting dead centre on the red couch. The rest of the play’s scenes occur outside the enclosing bars, while Hippolytus looms in the background. Its highly creative and aesthetically pleasing staging strikes the eye and emphasises Hippolytus. Throughout the play he is continually lit by almost Giallo-horror style reds and blues that emphasise his unemotional character. The vivid lighting also enhances the violence to come. It also marks one of the many transactions fantastically. Unfortunately, not all of the transitions were conducted as strikingly, most being disengaging and disruptive.
Throughout the production, Hippolytus seems to be looking at the stage roof for an extended amount of time. While this choice causes him to appear distracted, he shines with an impressive ability to wield explosive energy in a profound instant, shocking and dominating at once. The Priest, played by John Joe Irwin, is a highlight with his subtle characterisation of quivering lips and his erect stance. The Mob is directed with style to act in a chaotic fashion, as voices boom from an unidentifiable number of directions leave a dizzying effect on the audience.
The blocking towards the play’s climax is intense and horrifying, in the best possible way
The blocking, at times, is wisely developed and employed. A scene involving Phaedra, played by Lig Kennedy, and the Doctor, played by Keith Feenan, feels almost like an interrogation with the doctor’s inquisitive movements. The blocking towards the play’s climax is intense and horrifying, in the best possible way. The Mob with their herd mentality is executed with precision, moving like a pack following the king’s directions. The chaos feels authentic as it unfolds with the Mob’s brash movements.
The play is an audacious production to decide to put on. However, it is handled with care and directed with the play’s chaos kept in mind. An unexpected evening is offered, one that is shocking and satisfying. It is a play that one should leave one slightly shaken and this production accomplishes this in an incredibly deft manner.