Phaedra assessment – Simon Stone’s reimagining flitters from tragedy to comedy | Nationwide Theatre

 Chloe Lamford’s set.

The historic Greek tragedy of a girl’s illegitimate need for her stepson, adopted by a false declare of rape when he rejects her, is just not a simple one to revive for our occasions. However it might turn out to be wealthy with trendy resonances round postmenopausal need.

Simon Stone’s reimaginging, which calls itself “a brand new play after Euripides, Seneca and Racine”, initially appears unrecognisable. Phaedra has turn out to be Helen (Janet McTeer), a charismatic politician who falls for Sofiane (Assaad Bouab), the son of her previous, now lifeless, Moroccan lover.

We meet Helen at residence along with her household and they’re gently satirised: the daughter speaks earnestly of her privilege, the younger son listens to “counter-cultural philosophical rap” and it appears as if the parable has been reconceived as a middle-class comedy of manners.

However the coronary heart is there: Helen’s illicit ardour each revives her and results in her doom. Stone’s manufacturing units itself to grapple with the wishes of a girl in midlife and introduces a postcolonial critique of Helen’s (probably exoticising) wishes.

 Chloe Lamford’s set.
Chloe Lamford’s set for Phaedra. {Photograph}: Johan Persson

That is probably fruitful terrain however the play’s tone repeatedly switches from comedy to critical drama, which brings confusion over what it’s attempting to say or do. It comes laden with plot turns, not all convincing, which get in the best way of any psychological depth. Helen is in the end rendered a caricature, spoilt and self-obsessed.

McTeer’s efficiency is powerful all the identical. There’s one intercourse scene through which Helen speaks touchingly to Sofiane about how her love has made her really feel alive once more. After this come clear messages that she has been a neglectful mom to her daughter (Mackenzie Davis), a self-obsessed colleague to her pal (Akiya Henry, superb), a failed spouse to her husband (Paul Chahidi), and an exploitative lover. However the chemistry between Helen and Sofiane isn’t there, so it’s laborious to spend money on their relationship.

The traditional dramatists labored with a number of variations of the Phaedra fantasy, together with an unforgiving one through which she is a lustful villain and one other through which she is as a lot a sufferer as her stepson Hippolytus. These variations meet and conflict right here.

In its aesthetics, the manufacturing resembles a TV drama, with brief, punchy scenes, blackness in between, and a voiceover from Sofiane’s lifeless father in Arabic with translation throughout a display screen. Chloe Lamford’s set is a rotating clear field with window-like bars. We’re peeping in, voyeurs to Helen’s life. It’s visually arresting however retains us at a distance, even in scenes of intimacy, and we stay voyeurs to the final, by no means allowed into Phaedra’s thoughts or coronary heart.