Phil Willmott is a brave man. Not content with turning up in half a dozen different venues in London, he's now colonised a stone amphitheatre next door to City Hall. I wish I could say I'd enjoyed his latest enterprise, a modern dress version of Euripides' Children of Hercules, more. Though, to be honest, it would have taken something pretty extraordinary on a cold, windy night, 24 hours after Thursday's bombings.
It was two years ago that Willmott, walking past the Scoop, saw its potential. He wasn't wrong. His first two seasons - modern versions of Oedipus and Agamemnon and, last year, Shaw's Androcles and the Lion - drew the crowds. For one thing, it was free (thanks to support from More London, the bankside development agency and other sponsors). And the backdrop is spectacular: Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the Thames.
Structurally the Scoop, with its semi-circular sweep, offers a perfect setting for epic story-telling. Despite the usual night-time distractions (augmented this year by the Tower of London's jazz and opera festivals across the way), The Scoop's shape provides sound acoustics whilst the glass panels that surround one half of it create a fascinating mirror image of ever-changing figures.
So far so good. Children of Hercules, a 2000 year old tale of self-sacrifice, revenge and, with Hercules' persecuted children seeking asylum in a strange land, refugees, carries obvious relevance. Kenneth McLeish's easy-on-the-ear translation goes straight to the heart of the matter. As usual, Willmott has assembled a strong company of young and experienced actors, particularly in Robert Donald as Hercules' trusty old friend, Iolaos, and Ursula Mohan as Alkmene, Hercules' mother, whose determination to seek a bloody revenge on her defeated persecutor King Eurystheus of Argos (Stewart Alexander) creates the play's ultimate moral hot potato. Should he die or himself be offered asylum? `Do right' urge the chorus at the end.
Willmott's production, with its gypsy music, hand-to-hand fights and masked rituals, tries hard to keep the eye as well as the head engaged. But, somehow, this time, the usually sure-footed master of spectacle-on-a-shoestring hasn't quite pulled it off. It all looks a bit skimped. Still, it's only an hour. And the setting is truly magical.
- Carole Woddis