herakles 1

Alistair Petrie

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Herakles' must rank as one of the least well
known of Euripides' surviving tragedies. This
beautifully resonant new translation by the late
Kenneth McLeish, given a bold staging by Nick
Philippou and an awesome, if bumnumbingly
stark, design by Stewart Laing, makes you
wonder why. Although uniquely designed to
cause maximum torment to the greatest hero
in Greek mythology, the misfortune that strikes
Herakles is shown to be quite capable of
touching a modern audience.

In a series of gobsmacking reversals, the
half-man, half-deity arrives home from his
twelfth labour in the nick of time to save his
wife and sons from slaughter at the hands of
Lykos, usurper of the Theban throne. He
then dementedly butchers them himself
before coming to his senses. The ostensible
cause of his derangement is the vengeful
goddess Hero, who dispatches Madness to
inflict temporary insanity.

Philippou stops short of presenting this
personification as a ska-loving skinhead,
but the thought probably crossed his mind. The
production strains every sinew to present this
archaic landscape of gods and mortals in a
twentieth-century frame. The temple of Zeus,
where Herakles' tracksuited wife, kids and
tramp-like father Amphitryon take refuge at
the start looks like a shrine to a dead '70s pop
star: amass of old flowers, children's drawings
and photocopies of ancient icons. The chorus
resembles a group of excitable OAPs, who drum
their walking sticks, dance around and even
engage in a round of musical chairs.

All this would seem like distracting gimmickry if it were not for the fresh, colloquial sound of McLeish's translation - short,
stunned phrases - and strong, unostentatious performances, particularly from Kevin Costello as Amphitryon and Alistair
Petrie as Herakles. Both men are visibly brought to their knees by the terrifying forces of irrationality that lurk in the
human heart.
copyright 2004