Performing Sarah Kane’s powerful, dark and aggressive black comedy, Phaedra’s Love, the drama department of Durban University of Technology (DUT) kicks off its production on Thursday at the Courtyard Theatre, DUT.

Directed by Marcia Peschke, the play explores the brutal nature of love, social relations, nihilism and belief through an affair between a queen and her stepson.

When Tonight chatted to Peschke, she expanded on what the play entails: “This reworking of Seneca’s classic Phaedra is set in the palace of a contemporary European royal family and follows Queen Phaedra’s deeply obsessive love for her bored and emotionally unavailable stepson Hippolytus, who merely sits in front of the television watching regurgitated and increasingly violent images of contemporary society. This story acts as a vehicle which addresses the brutal and dark nature of human beings and performs largely as a criticism against prescribed behaviour in a frighteningly direct and aggressive manner.”

The students involved in the production range from first- to third-year performers. Peschke says they have all come into the production with embodied knowledge, not as blank slates, which makes it rewarding to see them negotiate systems of meaning and their own experiences in life through this production.

“I’ve adopted an approach in which each actor (no matter how many lines they speak or which year of study they are grouped in) feels a purpose and their responsibility for the role they create,” she said.

Peschke decided to stage this play because she enjoys creative work such as theatre, film and literature that aligns itself with feminist concerns, that engages in systems of meaning and addresses those who prescribe behaviour and identity.

“Fairly aggressive works such as this play allow me to challenge rather than affirm these prescribed behaviours. For the student body and public, it is an opportunity for exposure to a female playwright whose work is increasingly relevant to our context in SA,” she elaborated.

For Peschke, her attraction to this story is “the urgency and immediacy of the script, its aggressive writing style, disturbing characters and honest look at social issues in an unconventional staging, make for a thought-provoking and uncom- promising piece of performance”.

According to the director: “In the words of Hippolytus, ‘Life at last’ sums up the play.”

Peschke encourages the public to see this production: “This is a deeply insightful and humorous take on the world we exist in. I think the idea of possibilities might help the audience better engage in the aggressive energy, content and language and understand it as an attempt to achieve liberty and speech, sway from social discourse and prescribed behaviour.

“This is one of Kane’s cleverly written dark comedies so there may be a bit of both – humour and drama. With that, the audience will have to negotiate how they respond.”

• Phaedra’s Love,Thursday to August 14, Courtyard Theatre, DUT, daily, 7pm. Tickets: R35. Call Lebohang Sibisi: 031 373 2194 or see 344015172341936/. No under-18s.