Anne-Marie Duff is 'a marvel' in Donmar's updated Berenice

Oct 8, 2012

Shameless star is terrific as lovelorn heroine in Hollinghurst's revamped Racine tragedy

Donmar Theatre

What you need to know
A new version of 17th century French playwright Jean Racine's tragedy Berenice has opened at the Donmar Theatre. The translation is by Booker Prize winning author, Alan Hollinghurst (The Line of Beauty).

It tells the story of Berenice, and her unrequited love affair with Titus. On the death of his father, Titus becomes Emperor of Rome, and Berenice, a foreigner, expects to become his queen at last. But when the Roman people express their disapproval, Titus must choose between love and responsibility.

Anne-Marie Duff (Shameless) stars as Berenice. Stephen Campbell Moore (Hunted, The History Boys) is Titus. Runs until 24 November.

What the critics like
This version of Berenice is quietly compelling, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It breathes with the "majestic sadness"
that Racine regarded as the pleasure of tragedy, but Hollinghurst's translation also renders the play in clear, simple language. "It reminds us that even Racine's elevated characters suffer like the rest of us."

Anne-Marie Duff is "terrific" as the heroine, says Libby Purves in The Times. "Dignified, hollow-eyed and weary, maturely in love, she speaks the lines with all available beauty". Her perfectly judged emotional reactions during the men's long speeches are "a marvel".

The human aspects of this stately play come across well, says Henry Hitchings in The Evening Standard. Duff conveys the fragility and radiant elegance of Berenice and has "the gift of mixing vulnerability with a steely power", while Stephen Campbell Moore "does a good job of communicating the indecisive yet fundamentally noble nature of Titus".

What they don't like
For lovers of the richness of Shakespeare's plays, Racine can seem sterile, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. Here, "everyone suffers, everyone finally does the right thing, and no one dies". No one does anguish like Duff, but the play is not exactly gripping.

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