A black box room is the first thing you see when you enter The Hope Theatre. Watching Hippolytus, the second thing you see is actor Ben Scheck. Scheck, who plays the lead protagonist of The Lecturer/Hippolytus, asserts his authority on stage as he sits silently centre stage, waiting patiently for the opportunity to transport the audience away from the hubbub of the Hope and Anchor pub downstairs.
Euripides’s second version of Greek tragedy Hippolytus sees a spurned Aphrodite, the goddess of love, exact revenge on Hippolytus by making his step-mother Phaedra yearn for him. When Hippolytus rejects Phaedra, she is manipulated into committing suicide and leaves a note accusing Hippolytus of rape.
Catharsis Theatre, known for its combination of ancient dramas and modern times, remains loyal to its signature as The Lecturer is forced to recognise the resemblance between his actions and those of Hippolytus. As the play develops so does The Lecturer’s relationship with one of his students, Jess, and eventually his careless attitude towards her ambitions lead to the same deadly consequences Hippolytus’s callous words towards Phaedra had.
The driving force behind The Lecturer’s moment of realisation is Aphrodite (Isobel Wolff) who flaunts the powers of her sexuality, and crescendos the drama into its vicious and tragic decline. In her first appearance Wolff enchants the audience as she glides around stage, but giving into the seduction soon turns regrettable as Aphrodite’s malice intent becomes apparent. Playing the antagonist, Aphrodite’s importance is highlighted through her costume, ensemble of followers, and is heightened by music and lighting. Wolff performs to the hum of eerie music and red lights, and dominates the stage in a red dress, a colour universally associated with love, passion and danger.
Aphrodite’s manipulation of the characters flowed throughout the play and came to a climax as The Lecturer was transported frantically between his world and that of Hippolytus’s. The rapid change in setting was made sense of by the fast pace of music and lighting changes, and was intensified by Scheck’s physical capabilities as he locked and threw his body around the stage. Hippolytus being dragged across a bed of rocks was convincingly harrowing as the whole ensemble became props and moved effortlessly through tangled ribbon.
Catharsis Theatre’s fusion of two different time periods provided me with both entertainment and a history lesson. The idea of walking up the stairs of a pub initially had me sceptical, but small in its appearance, The Hope Theatre has a commanding presence that rivals any West End stage. Hippolytus made me engage with the characters as their actions made my feelings towards them more ambiguous.
Hippolytus and The Lecturer’s outdated and stereotypical standpoint of women drew questions about gender roles and expectations in society, but the most important thing to take away from the play was: “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.
Hippolytus played at The Hope Theatre. For more infromation, see the Hope Theatre website.