Love among the ruins as phaedre conquers castle

Phaedre ***

Craigmillar Castle

TAKING the audience from the depths of Craigmillar Castle's candle-lit cellar to the heights of its breezy battlements, Offstage's production of Phaedre is as much a guided tour as an entertaining and innovative piece of theatre.

Shortly after its arrival by bus at the ancient attraction, the audience finds itself bearing witness to a frantic but well choreographed sword fight between Hippolytus (Henry Maynard) and Theramenes (Graham Elwell). It's an exciting start to the proceedings and a sign of the tragedy about to unfold.

Adapted by director Cressida Brown from Jean Racine's 1677 play, Phaedre is the story of an unrequited and poisonous infatuation of the eponymous Black Queen.

While King Theseus (Seamus Newham) is busy fighting battles overseas, his wife, played by Cleo Sylvestre, is fighting a guilty passion for her stepson, Hippolytus.

Just to make the situation even more complicated, Hippolytus is in love with Aricia (Alison O'Donnell) the daughter of one of Theseus's enemies, to whom the king has forbidden marriage.

When news comes of the death of Theseus, Phaedre, urged on by her nurse Oenone (Fiona Watson), declares her love for Hippolytus. Unsurprisingly, she is rejected and, when Theseus returns unexpectedly, she sets out to turn the father against the son.

By her own admission, Brown found that tailoring a play steeped in Greek mythology to a 16th century Christian setting was not without its problems. The reference to Neptune's monster, in particular, sits uncomfortably in the play's Scottish surroundings. Although the good people at the Drumnadrochit tourist office may disagree, the existence of a giant Scottish sea monster seems a bit far fetched.

Nevertheless, Craigmillar Castle provides a tremendous backdrop to Phaedre and Brown makes great use of a number of imposing, and slightly spooky, locations within the ruin. As they line the staircases between scenes, the five-strong female chorus add to the play's tension with their haunting songs and chants.

The majority of the cast turn in good performances, particularly Maynard and Newham, whose verbal confrontation on the battlements is the highlight of the show. Sylvestre, too, impresses as a woman who finds herself torn apart by a love she knows she should not feel.

Also look out for impressive professional debuts by 19-year-old Edinburgh twins Lisa and Alana MacFarlane as Panope, the audience's guide. The identical twins' appearance taps into the ancient belief that multiple births are often the harbingers of bad news.

Even the castle's resident pigeons seem to coo their approval at the drama on display, although it's probably best not to think about how they would express their disappointment.

The 10.50 ticket price includes the bus ride from the main C Venue on Chambers Street out to Craigmillar. It's best to wrap up warm - even the Offstage-issue hessian ponchos aren't guaranteed to keep out the drafts. Having said that, fans of pathetic fallacy will find any wind and rain entirely apt.

• Until August 27