Helen Globe Theatre 05 August 2009

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This was an adaptation by Frank McGuinness of the tragedy by Euripides–it certainly is a tragedy even though all ends happily for everyone apart from some Egyptian sailors, since it treats of serious matters in a mythological setting, which is what tragedy meant to the Greeks.

I understand that much. But there was much I failed to grasp, and not only because we were sitting beside (or even behind) the stage, and it was quite often difficult to hear the actors’ words.

I think the two main problems were with the text (after all, it originates with that bungler Euripides) and the theatre. For example, the recognition scene between Menelaus and Helen as he at least is threatened with death from the Egyptian King is the kind of thing that Euripides usually does pretty well (by his standards), but here it wasn’t prepared sufficiently–even in the original, the Egyptian set-up has a risibly unthreatening comic-opera feeling to it.

Then you ask whether it is possible to use what is after all Shakespeare’s theatre–with its possibilities for intimate soliloquies and rough jesting with the groundlings–for Greek tragedy, which is based upon heroic declamation (and quite often singing, though we don’t know how often) to an amphitheatre of thousands. And the answer may well be ‘Not very far’.

As for the performers, Penny Downie (as I was told) used to live in Telegraph Hill so will benefit from South London solidarity here, while the countertenor William Purefoy was jolly good.

Here are a couple of pictures:

View from our position of actors receiving applause

View from our position of actors receiving applause

The stage, with enigmatic Egyptian earth

The stage, with enigmatic Egyptian earth

The official details are here.

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