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This is an extraordinary evening out. It challenges, provokes and shocks in a way that shows how utterly compelling theatre can be. It is a rare occasion when cast, director and design synchronise in a way that is both inspiring and deeply disturbing in equal measure.

Cheek by Jowl has created yet another ground breaking adaptation of a classic play. The brutal tale of incest, love and rivalry is presented on an open stage with an apparently simple room setting. The design from Nick Ormerod is both seductive and brooding, lit by Judith Greenwood, it is a dark, shadowy affair that demands your full attention at all times. A scarlet sacrificial bed is the central focus; the multipurpose outer rooms create depth and imagery that is left mainly to the imagination, equally as powerful as the moments onstage.
Performances are excellent, under the visionary direction of Declan Donnellan. Annabella (Eve Ponsonby) is both seductive and tragic alongside her brother Giovanni (Orlando James.) Vasques (Will Alexander) is a great arbiter of the piece, almost serpent like in his ways. Desperation and humour is evident in Hippolita (Ruth Everett) and Putana (Nicola Sanderson) with Soranzo (Maximilien Seweryn) the suitor in love with Annabella. The accompanying sound track ensures swift changes of mood, the onstage energy and explosive choreography keeps the piece at an electrifying pace as the play races to its conclusion without pausing for an interval.

This is a graphic production in terms of sex, nudity and violence and carries an age advisory of 16 years and over. It is worth every moment to watch a company of this calibre create something so powerful and memorable. Theatre is there to move and engage, Cheek by Jowl never shirk in finding ways to do this and this production is a great example of turning expectations upside down and bringing a new audience to classic work.

*****

Petra Schofield