Having run the country for seven years, Tony Blair now seems ready to take over our theatres. After a star part in David Hare's Stuff Happens, there are any number of characters in the Donmar's Hecuba ready and eager to reassure others that they are doing things `because it's right'.
Moral self-righteousness is rife. There's Tim Piggot-Smith's slightly weak-kneed, sharp-suited general, Agamemnon, unwilling to condemn a man who has terribly betrayed a friendship by murdering the son of friends entrusted to him because, he says, `the army would not stand for that'.
Meanwhile, Finbar Lynch's Polymestor tries to put a reasonable gloss on things, admitting, yes, he killed young Polydorus, Hecuba and Priam's son, out of greed but also because had he lived, he'd have been a threat to peace. Even Odysseus, who comes to take Polyxena, Hecuba's daughter, for sacrifice, says "I mean well...I am not your enemy", whilst Hecuba, probably second only to Medea as a figure of infamy - she blinds one man and kills his two young sons - does so for that most articulate and understandable of arguments: revenge.
All of which makes Hecuba sharply relevant for our own troubled times. (Mo wonder we shall also be seeing Vanessa Redgrave rising to the challenge in the spring with the Royal Shakespeare Company.) Two-thousand-five-hundred years on from Euripides' great anti-war tract, we are still grappling with similar problems: never-ending conflicts, cycles of blood-letting, self-deluding rationalisations for it.
Frank McGuinness' marvellous new translation shows how to be modern without ever being meretricious. A grieving mother, who has lost everything to war - home, husband, identity and now two children - could be any parent staring out from recent newspapers from Iraq to Ramallah, Beslan to Darfur. Or indeed Belfast. Euripides, however, goes one step further. Hecuba, brutalised, turns brute, victim becomes perpetrator.
As always with Jonathan Kent productions, visually it's hugely impressive. With designer Paul Brown's steep, sloping sand dune, dark, brick wall covered with a roll call of names, shimmering water (from which, like Kent's Almeida Tempest effect, Eddie Redmayne's Polydorus mysteriously rises) and a soundscape alternating between almost subliminal heartbeats and ocean surf, the sense of imminent horror is palpable, elemental.
But Susan Engel's one-woman Chorus is a let-down and the studiedly modern-dress somehow detracts rather than adding to the production's contemporary impact. No qualms about Clare Higgins' Hecuba, a towering performance in which every moment registers, at first unutterable despair turning to invincibility in revenge. Awesome.
- Carole Woddis