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Sunday Telegraph, 16th December 1978

The message of Euripides’s “Hippolytus”, as of his “The Bacchae,” is E.M. Forster’s famous ‘Only connect.’ The play opens with Aphrodite, goddess of sexuality, foretelling her vengeance on Theseus’s son for daring to call her evil. It ends with Artemis, goddess of chastity, withdrawing from him in his final agony, since it is not permitted for an immortal to look on death. In David Rudkin’s realisation of the text at The Other Place (Stratford), one actress, Juliet Stevenson, takes both parts, as though to emphasise that, in fact, the two goddesses represent twin halves of man’s divided nature.

As F.L. Lucas once put it in an essay on the play: ‘With too little passion, life becomes a kind of death; with too much it can become Hell.’ Playing Phaedra, for whom life has become Hell, Natasha Parry moves more eloquently than she speaks. As Hippolytus, on the other hand, Michael Pennington brings his usual impeccable diction to the voicing of a misogyny by turns pettish and hysterical.

Mr Rudkin’s version is perpetually at pains to render explicit for a modern audience what remains implicit in the Greek. The result, running for two hours without an interval, tends to be wordy and – in part, because of Ron Daniel’s direction – static. There is no chorus of either Huntsmen or Women of Troezen but merely ‘A Man of the Household’ and ‘A Young Woman’. The players squat around in a rectangle, entering in when they have to participate. Here, in short, is the theatrical equivalent of a concert performance of an opera.

There is a thrilling dramatic moment when Theseus (Patrick Stewart, in finely resonant voice) discovers the death of Phaedra; and another when the dying Hippolytus asks his father to ‘cover’ him (an odd word, with its sexual connotations: in the original, ‘embrace’). But in general the vigour of the production lies in what is spoken, not in what is done. Though I found myself pining for some poetic equivalent of the metre of the choral lyrics – how effective Gilbert Murray’s Swinburnian versions used once to sound! – and though Mr Rudkin is capable of a line like ‘I see that I have been not positive enough a person,’ for the most part he has brought stylistic variety and vigour to his task.

Guardian 19th July 1979, Nicholas de Jongh

A pellet of wood hit my eye in the morning so I had a partial view of David Rudkin’s version of the Euripides tragedy. Yet even in this reduced circumstance Ron Daniel’s production transferred from Stratford serves to show that classic Greek tragedy need not be an anachronistic theatrical rite expressed in forms about which we can care little and admire less.

Although Rudkin’s version is pompously described as a ‘realisation’ – something which Mr Euripides managed without his help – it vividly transposes the play to a neutral zone, removes intrusive classical illusion and alters the structure slightly and those dramatic hammer blows. But the language in which Rudkin writes, despite some astonishing failures of sensibility with occasional repetitive archaisms, and the general expression is clear, graphic and beautiful.

The effect, with Ralph Koltai’s rather blandly bare set consisting of a tin, beige back-cloth and a grey platform, is of a dramatic demonstration rather than a play reinterpreted with the cast, in the manner of Trevor Nunn’s ‘Macbeth’ sitting ranged round the playing area until brought into the action.

The play, with Phaedra the first-temptress stepmother possessed of a terrible passion for her stepson Hippolytus, does not altogether repay such a cerebral rendition. Yet Rudkin’s plan is clearly to alter the play’s old rigidness. We have been taught to understand it as an attack on two forms of extremism and a recognition of the chaos and grief which unwhole people impose upon the world: the goddess Artemis enthuses Hippolytus with woman-hating, primness and virginal absolution while Phaedra is impelled by the Goddess Aphrodite.

But Rudkin has reduced both divine creatures to recognisable human beings – as average as the human characters in their unhierarchical contemporary white clothes. And the chorus is reduced to a single woman. This does deprive elemental emotions of divine dread but it also brings the play to earth. We are responsible for our own actions, the gods representatives of conflictive feelings.

There is not complete consistency in the acting and only Michael Pennington’s arresting Hippolytus is equal to this new challenge. Mr Pennington allows his hero to grow from a rather too sympathetically described virginity (the misogyny is missing) into a soaring grief which never overwhelms the small studio. Patrick Stewart as his father and Natasha Parry’s Phaedra seem in pursuit of emotional hyperbole.

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