Written by Euripedes (version by Tony Harrison)
Directed by Laurence Boswell
Designed by Es DevlinI was thinking that this was the first time that I’d seen Vanessa Redgrave in a really tragic role. When I’ve seen her previously there’s always been humour in her performance; something relaxed and knowing. Even when I first saw her years ago, in a “Redgrave” Three Sisters where she played Olga, she seemed to be having immense fun with the part, at least not taking it as seriously as her sister and her niece. Having seen Claire Higgins doing an intense Hecuba last year, I did wonder how Vanessa Redgrave would approach it.
There were no tears or screaming, in fact there was something very cold and calm in the way she took here revenge. Her justification for murder was well argued and efficient but I wouldn’t have called it heartfelt. This isn’t to say I wasn’t convinced by her but there was a placidity there which may well get interpreted, by the critics, as repressed intensity.
On trivial matters there was a moment when Vanessa Redgrave reminded me of her daughter Joely Richardson. Hardly surprising really but suddenly as she crouched over Polydorus’ body her blue eyes pierced out into the audience and I thought of her daughter. Another thing was that as she dragged Polydorus’ body off the stage, I thought “here’s someone who wants to play Mother Courage” – it was the way she carried herself and she’s probably played the part anyway.
The set was made up of a number of curved walls that, at first, formed a drum (before the play started), spent most of the play as a semi circle and finally turned in on themselves, to form a passage between two curved walls. There was probably some significance in this that escaped me, as a black backdrop with a huge white splash was revealed. Actually I suspect something went wrong here, the rear wall of the drum slowly and non-silently moved to reveal the backdrop while Vanessa Redgrave was speaking.
I always like to think that I like Tony Harrison’s Greek translations but that may well be because his reputation is a good one. I’d like to say that I hadn’t noticed his point-making before (Troy equals Iraq, references to bombing or blasting Troy, the Greeks in a ‘coalition’ and a digs at Europe attacking Asia), but I remember that when he reconstructed the Trackers of Oxyrynchus fifteen years ago, it was peppered with social comment.
The Chorus who sang almost all their lines (requiring Vanessa Redgrave to almost sing along with them at one point) were dressed in a style that I’d associate with places like Turkey or possibly Georgia – long coat-like dark coloured dresses (mostly green) and dark head scarves. They also wore make-up to make their faces much paler. This had an unfortunate (possibly deliberate) effect on one olive-skinned actress as she ended up looking a pale green – almost green enough to be a Kathikali dancer. I found myself a little disappointed with the music. It wasn’t bad but I couldn’t help thinking that given the costumes the composer should have gone for Spanish Phrygian mode and some very close intervals in the harmonies but perhaps that would have been a cliché.