Curse of the goddess in scarlet high heels

PUBLISHED: 15:22 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

FURY: Beatrice Curnew as Aphrodite.

FURY: Beatrice Curnew as Aphrodite.

TEMPLE Theatre s recent production of Hippolytus, performed last week at Greenwich Theatre, was a refreshingly modern take on an ancient tale, writes Mark Campbell.

TEMPLE Theatre's recent production of Hippolytus, performed last week at Greenwich Theatre, was a refreshingly modern take on an ancient tale, writes Mark Campbell.

The action opens with goddess Aphrodite (Beatrice Curnew) furious that Hippolytus (Paul O'Mahony), son of Theseus (David Burke) and Phaedra (Katherine Tozer), is worshipping Artemis (Jane Warwick), goddess of fertility, rather than herself.

She decides to punish Hippolytus by making his stepmother Phaedra fall madly in love with him.

This guilty secret is then passed on by Phaedra's naïve nurse (Ann Penfold) to Theseus.

Unable to cope with her feelings, Phaedra hangs herself. The grief-stricken Theseus discovers Aphrodite's curse, thinks Hippolytus has slept with his wife, and banishes him, whereupon he is fatally injured by a sea monster conjured up by Poseidon.

Surprisingly, despite the tragic nature of the piece, the Temple Theatre company, under the direction of Mike Tweddle, managed to find the odd moment of humour in Timberlake Wertenbaker's brand new adaptation of Euripides' original.

There's more than an element of social satire in the plotting, and both goddesses are treated less than seriously.

Aphrodite wears scarlet high-heels and a tattered red ballgown, while Artemis is portrayed as a spoilt public schoolgirl.

Acting honours go to David Burke (who played Watson opposite Jeremy Brett's Holmes in the 1980s series) as Theseus, a man pulled asunder by his own violent passions, liable always to act first and think later.

Paul O'Mahony was also excellent in the title role. Dressed in T-shirt and jeans he may have looked as if he'd just stepped in off the street, but his conviction in the part was never in doubt.

It was an odd decision of Wertenbaker's to pepper her script with passages in Greek (although they sounded suitably mysterious), while Hippolytus' violent death was not the visual spectacle it could have been.

But this was a powerful, streamlined version of the story that made its point in a memorably compact eighty minutes.

The next production at the Greenwich Theatre is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage, from 17-21 March. Tickets: 020 8858 7755.

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