Review Round Up: Phaedra, National Theatre

We take a look at what is being said about Simon Stone’s new take on the play by Euripides.

(c)Johan Persson

WhatsOnStage: ** “McTeer, Davis and Bouab seem to be attempting to find some deeper, more profound reflection on love, loss and memory that Stone’s script only timidly gestures at – rather than fully explores. Despite some relatively intriguing voice-overs interspersed between scenes, Sofiane is an elusive presence, an immigrant essentially used to faciliate a privileged white woman’s emotional decay and opportunity to explore her sexual identiy. This means the show swings from farce through to bleakness within minutes, while protracted scene changes stymy any sense of through-line and tone.” **** “McTeer is magnificent as the hormonal cougar harbouring a necrotic guilt and she is surrounded by a superb ensemble including Archie Barnes as the smartmouthed son Declan, Akiya Henry as Helen’s political ally Omalara and John Macmillan as Isolde’s cuckolded husband Eric.”

West End Best Friend: **** “Performances aside, this is a mixed bag. As the pace of the play picks up, it veers from satire to tragedy to absurd melodrama. Nearly all of the characters are unlikeable and self-absorbed, making for seething and funny dialogue. Entertaining? Yes. But the message is sometimes confused. Still, we’d recommend it for the acting and stunning visuals.”

The Guardian: ** “This is potentially fruitful terrain but the play’s tone repeatedly switches from comedy to serious drama, which brings confusion over what it is trying to say or do. It comes laden with plot turns, not all convincing, which get in the way of any psychological depth. Helen is ultimately rendered a caricature, spoilt and self-obsessed.”

Evening Standard: **** “Stone’s retooling of Euripides, Seneca, Racine et al depicts a modern world where selfishness rules everything, not just the sexual arena. The retributive ending – which goes full Greek – jars slightly. But the sheer brio of this adaptation, and the deep conviction of the cast, absolutely carry it off.”

iNews: ** “Awkwardly, Isolde’s interest is stirred too and from this richly fertile setup we unfortunately progress rapidly into the realms of shouty overstatement and ludicrous behaviour. McTeer is never less than commanding, but it is difficult to credit that a proud public figure like Helen would go so rapidly and visibly to pieces.”

West End Wilma: **** “As an ensemble, the actors form a believable dysfunctional liberal family unit where wine flows, swear words are the norm and sex is talked about over the dinner table. As Helen, Janet McTeer is superb. Spanning an incredible emotional arch during the play, McTeer delves headfirst into Helen/ Phaedra’s psyche, expertly holding on for dear life in a riveting performance careening towards Phaedra’s graphic untimely end.”

Time Out: ** “The fact of the matter is that Stone’s ‘Phaedra’ doesn’t get close to achieving the emotional critical mass that his ‘Yerma’ did. McTeer is very watchable. But it’s not like Piper, where her performance was so volcanic it became the entire show.”

The Arts Desk: ***** “As well as McTeer’s compelling performance, the acting has a freedom of movement and a hyper-naturalism that is very rare on British stages. Stone directs his cast to create a recognisable impression of real life, with an opening scene in which they talk over each other and create a truthful sense of what it’s like to come into someone else’s home for the first time. No clumsy exposition here. Bouab’s Sofiane is a vivid contrast to McTeer’s Helen, being more cautious and careful, yet also explosive when pushed too far. He exudes the feeling of a man searching for answers to questions he’s had since childhood.”

London Unattached: “Phaedra is a complex psychological drama sugar-coated with humour. Strong acting, an engaging script and excellent staging make this one to see.”

Culture Whisper: **** “Between its clever writing, stunning staging and all round first-rate performances, this Phaedra is a must.”

There Ought to be Clowns: “Stone’s script is wonderfully, bitingly savage as various configurations of these characters tear lumps out of each other but there is a slight sense of an overstuffed grab-bag of themes which aren’t necessarily all fully fleshed out. And given how the restaurant scene that precedes it is jet black-comedy at its finest (clock the kid recording it on his phone!), the way the final scene pivots into full-on Greek tragedy doesn’t quite land, despite the ferocious multilingual brilliance of Sirine Saba’s work and stunning visuals.”

The Reviews Hub: **** “In all of this, Stone is exploring playfully the clashes between modern sophisticated lifestyles and primitive human urges. Opportunities to expand on the pressures placed specifically on women in modern professional life and on the different attitudes towards them and their male counterparts are largely passed over. The writer seems less concerned with making serious social points than with creating a piece of stimulating and original entertainment.”

Broadway World: **** “Performances are hypnotisingly untheatrical, navigating the deliberately cluttered dialogue effortlessly. Janet McTeer’s Helen undulates from smug confidence to spine chilling desperation. By the end she is broken, scuttling around her glass cage with vermin-like tenacity. It’s easy to see why she is enamoured with Assaad Bouab’s gleefully mystifying performance as Sofiane.”

The Independent: **** “Six years after ‘Yerma’, director Simon Stone puts another old story into a giant glass box with thrilling and maddening results.”

Phaedra continues to play at the National Theatre until the 8th April.

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