To do justice to any of Sarah Kane’s work, you need to not be taken in by the maniacal, despairing nature of her scripts. The characters are, for all their flaws, always believable and human; it’s the situations Kane constructs that are so distressing. It would be so easy to take the easy option and over-play the drama, exaggerating any and every interaction. Under the solid direction of Julia Midtgard, Fear No Colours Theatre Company thankfully avoids this pitfall and finds a good balance between horror and realism.
For a play that can so easily be overdone, this stripped-back production shows maturity and admirable restraint.
The production is drawn by a strong lead performance. Callum Partridge manages to convey the decadence of Hippolytus, in all his Jim Morrison-esque splendour. There is a slight dissonance, it must be said, in the way Hippolytus is described as fat and grotesque while Partridge clearly isn’t. However, what he lacks in sloth he more than makes up for in energy and presence.
Hannah Torbitt, as the eponymous Phaedra, is a bit restrained in the opening scene, where she is overshadowed by Samuel Skoog’s Physician. Perhaps this is due to nerves, however, as she really opens up in her next scene with Partridge, where she expresses the conflict in her relationship with the anti-hero. And if there is an award going for ‘Best Slap’ then she is a shoe-in!
The production isn’t without some other minor problems. In relation to pacing, the shift from the expository nature of the earlier scenes to the climax, where the palace is stormed, does feel a bit fast. In fairness though, this is quite possibly more of an issue of trying to keep faithful to the script, rather than a problem with directing. Also, some of the smaller roles could do with a little work, as some of the interactions with the lead characters are slightly one-sided in terms of who is emoting.
The performance ends on a strong note, with Skoog’s menacing reappearance and a very clever negotiation with Kane’s stage directions which can be difficult to execute. For a play that can so easily be overdone, this stripped-back production shows maturity and admirable restraint.