Royal National Theatre (Olivier), London SE1
Opened 17 May, 2002

*** Peter Hall's latest masked Greek tragedy production

Hall's approach to the Greeks blends traditionalism with modernity, and in the end  whether it works for you is a matter of personal taste.

This is very much "from the team that brought you Tantalus": Hall's direction, Colin Teevan's sharp adaptation, Greg Hicks and David Ryall as two of the three main actors (the third being William Houston, who had the title role in Hall's son Edward's recent Henry V), plus Hall's regular Greek composer Harrison Birtwistle. Main players and chorus alike are masked, and especially in the space of the Olivier the 2400-year-old feel is retained of civic ritual as much as feeling drama, almost the very essence of theatre.

Pentheus, king of Thebes, tries to spy on the Dionysian rites he has forbidden (urged on by the god himself in disguise) and is torn to pieces by his maddened mother and aunts. Teevan's version makes the play address universal issues of personal and political control and that what claims to be reason may be as irrational as the passion over which it claims precedence. The moment when Pentheus's mother Agave (played, as is Pentheus, by Houston) exalts at having killed a young lion and hoists aloft what is in fact her own son's head is still chilling. Not for all tastes, but worth getting acquainted with.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2002

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage