Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 19 July, 1991

If the airlessness of the venue on a warm evening hadn't already taken my breath away (and that fault is soon to be rectified by the Gate's management), the concentrated power of this production certainly would have. Kenneth McLeish's elegant translation is put on hold for exclamations and for choric sequences in original Greek, led with fearsome intensity by an almost possessed Emma Rice. Paola Dionisotti's Hecuba struggles vainly to retain any shred of substance for herself or her former subjects: Dionisotti imbues her with a fatigued resignation she has seen much too much already, but is still unprepared for the excesses of the conquering Greeks' systematic despoliation of the sacked city and humiliation of its inhabitants.

Under Katie Mitchell's gentle but incisive direction, the atrocities are played out upon a bare stage which is never more than half-lit: as another tragic lady noted, hell is murky. And this is hell a downward spiral of degradation and indignity. It's no way to relax after a hard day, but a stunning reminder of the potency of drama even across millennia.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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