Phaedra(s) at the Barbican
Isabelle Huppert displays her remarkable talents in the radical Greek myth-inspired Phaedra(s), which combines text from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love, and J M Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello. Directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, Artistic Director of Warsaw’s Nowy Teatr and known for his controversial productions, this three-and-a-half hour cutting-edge work spans time and culture, breaking all boundaries.
Produced by Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe, in French with surtitles, Phaedra(s) is part of the London International Theatre Festival. Highly provocative and surreal, the play is presented as a kind of rock and roll dream world with a dazzling postmodern set, glam rockers, and at times doll-like characters. Very sexual – even pornographic – and often depraved, the piece is not shy and holds little back. In fact it gut-wrenchingly screams in torment about sex and love.
Opening with an expressionist pink glowing set and scantily-clad female glitter rockers, Huppert emerges as blonde goddess Phaedra, who contorts and gyrates in madness and pain, bleeding, wanton in her gestures. She speaks of her grief about children devoured by dogs and about her amorous passions, screaming hysterically “I love!”.
Next an elegant modern woman, Huppert is wooden in her movement and speech, like a wind-up doll, as she (Phaedra) consults a Ray Charles lookalike psychologist about her loafing, depressed step-son Hippolytus (Andrzej Chyra), who stays in his room all day eating hamburgers, engaging in debaucherous activities and endlessly watching Psycho. She asks Hippolytus “Why do you hate me?”, and he responds, “Because you hate yourself”. When he is interrogated by a priest, as a wolf howls, the ghost of a watching Phaedra in dark glasses is projected on the back wall (a fashionable use of video that’s employed in theatre now). Hippolytus tells the priest “I am beyond redemption”, an unbeliever because, he says, the religious commit sins, confess, then commit them again.
Continuing the dreamlike scenario, Huppert’s third incarnation, a modern-day writer interviewed about Greek myths and Eros, is briefly transformed into Phaedra as her host becomes Hippolytus. Finally, to more wild music and a pounding beat, a dancer in a glittering bikini gyrates and twirls her head with massive speed, like a creature from hell.
With supreme directing and acting, Phaedra(s) is stunning, witty, and shocking: an unusual, remarkable work. Huppert’s tour de force performance is its highlight.
Phaedra(s) is on at the Barbican from 9th until 18th June 2016 as part of LIFT Festival, for further information or to book visit here.
For more information about LIFT Festival visit here.