by Jean Racine translated by Samuel Solomon.
Pentameters Theatre 28 Heath Street/Oriol Place Hampstead NW3 6TE To 1 December 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 November.
Poetry, passion and politics rekindled.
It’s evidently easy to programme a theatre season in Hampstead. You walk your dog on the heath and find someone with a passion for an unperformed Elizabethan dramatist, or cannot avoid meeting in the street a playwright who has a piece that could do with revival, or has just written something new.
Or you might meet a journalist who’ll helpfully point out that her father’s translations of classical French drama, published by Random House in America, await performance here.
Within a few decades once gleaming-seeming translations can appear fusty and dusty. But Samuel Solomon’s 1967 translation of Jean Racine’s break-through tragedy Andromaque (1667) is speakable and dignified. Sometimes employing rhyme, but not insistently, it expresses the noblesse oblige of royal characters as well as their burning passions.
This is the ancient world’s Year Zero, after the fall of Troy. To gain Hermione’s love Orestes, previously pursued by Furies in Aeschylus’ Oresteia, kills Greek king Pyrrhus as he’s about to marry Andromache. Then he discovers Hermione loved Pyrrhus, wanting to prevent him marrying a woman who was not only a rival in love, but also an enemy Trojan.
Michael Friend’s revival is clear, finely spoken and conveys passion without losing dignity – every noble has an adviser, who keeps back until asked for their opinion. It shows that Racine’s plays, which can seem dominated by long speeches on the page, have a strong dramatic pulse, arguing through their lines both external demands of duty and the internal urges of love.
The women’s pretty frocks and the youthful cast can seem, in front of John Dalton’s classical design, more like intelligent teenagers coming to terms with adult emotions than figures who have lived through years of war. But the tragic trajectory is certainly caught by Cameron Robertson’s Orestes.
Arriving with brisk efficiency in buttoned-up uniform and greatcoat, he gradually transforms loses formality of clothing while the body seem to undergo a gradual slump as his hands worry through his hair, facial features and voice becoming increasingly aggravated, until he ends lying on the floor, arm overflowing the stage-edge – a complete tragic fall.
Pylades: Seamus Newham.
Orestes: Cameron Robertson.
Pyrrhus Tim Hilborne.
Phoenix: Jesse Cooper.
Andromache: Bethany Blake.
Cephise: Victoria Kempton.
Hermione: Francesca Bunce.
Leone: Marusiya Kallinina.
Director: Michael Friend.
Designer: John Dalton.
Lighting: Oliver Edwards, Penny Rischmiller.