Phedre_main (Large)She had desired Hippolytus since the day she married his father, Theseus.  Proud,  aloof, disdainful of women; he had all the strength of the father but none of his sire’s weakness for sexual temptation, or so it seemed. He was a real challenge.  She had to possess him, but Hippolytus was also her stepson;  Theseus, a fierce and vengeful man, would kill both of them.  Phedre had to protect herself.. So she denied her love, even to herself, she avoided her stepson, she criticized him, complained about him, even had him exiled.   She had to expunge the temptation of prohibited desires.  

But then Theseus went on another adventure and placed his court, including his wife, his children, even Aricia, the captured daughter of Erechteus, the previous King, under Hippolytus’ protection in Trozion.  Phedre could no longer escape her destiny.  She encountered Hippolytus ever day and the thought of him propelled her into a torment of lust and guilt.  She hid herself away from the all revealing God of the sun, she became ill, tried to take her own live; anything to get Hippolytus out of her mind. 

Then news from Athens announced that Theseus was dead.  Phedre is free to express her desires, claim her prize.  But Hippolytus recoils; he is already in love with Aricia, and  just as Phedre has revealed the full extent of her lust, cheering from the port brings the news that Theseus hadn’t died after all, but had escaped the underworld with the help of the Gods.   

Terrified of Theseus wrath, Phedre allows her husband to believe that Hippolytus raped her.  Theseus is furious; he evokes the assistance of Neptune to destroy his son.

Neptune does his bidding.  Hippolytus is attacked by a sea monster on the beach as he races to marry Aricia.  His chariot is destroyed and he is dragged and trampled by his own horses.  Aricia drags the sack containing the bloodied corpse into Theseus’ presence, who is stricken by grief.  Phedre appears, having swallowed a lethal dose of poison.  She admits Hippolytus’ innocence and dies.    

It’s another night of entertainment and adventure at the Odeon.  Life in a giant tub of popcorn!

Falling in love is the most dangerous thing any of us can ever do.  The power of lust evokes the threat of annihilation through exposure, exploitation and abandonment.  As the desire rises so does the fear.  Fearful lovers protect themselves from their appalling risks of their own vulnerability in many ways; denial, infidelity, disregard, rejection and by evoking jealousy, being too busy, playing hard to get.  These are the games insecure lovers play.  Phedre just took it to lethal proportions.  Terrified of her husband’s rage, she was prepared to sacrifice her lover and his son. 

Great passion is a game of life and death. The Gods understood it and were not averse to a little interference.  Hormone, the term for a mediator of emotional response, comes from a Greek word meaning messenger from the Gods.


Phedre, starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper,  is currently playing at the National Theatre, but on June 25th it went global and was beamed by satellite from the South Bank to cinemas around the country and across the world.