Temple Theatre, Hippolytus

Review in Issue 21-2 | Summer 2009

Just as the devil has all the good music, so do the Ancient Greeks have more than their fair share of enduring tales. And with its themes of misogyny, abstinence and jealousy, Euripides’ Hippolytus provides a sterling example of such durable storytelling.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new translation modernises the original well (if you like such things, that is). ‘Collateral damage’, one of the most evocative phrases of recent years, encourages new readings of Aphrodite’s vendetta against Hippolytus when used to describe Phaedra’s death; though when we start hearing references to ‘the in-laws’, the translation feels a little too contemporary/informal. Unfortunately, Temple Theatre’s staging of the text is even more hit and miss.

A strange hybrid of Greek and English accents blend together on the stage, which works well when extracts of the original Greek are spoken, but otherwise feels like an Anglo-Hellenic exchange programme. The emphatic emotion, so key to a number of the monologues, ranges from the gripping to the decidedly not so, and though Paul O’Mahony’s Hippolytus laudably treads the line between irritating self-righteousness and admirable self-control, elsewhere it feels as if the audience has been summoned to a wrestling match between performer and verse.

The chorus demonstrates a wide-ranging musical competency; violin, flute, drums, guitar and voice all feature, though whilst the intention in atmosphere is clear, its manifestation shoots wide of the mark by a musical whisker or two.

Nevertheless, the story and translation is powerful enough to carry such foibles, and despite the production’s faults, Temple Theatre should be congratulated on bringing a new version of this rich tale to the London stage.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 2009

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-2
p. 32