So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and Lysistrata. Antigone is these days as close to being unsinkable as a Greek play can be, while productions very often make a mess of Lysistrata by taking it literally–seriously, even.
Things turned out rather differently this time round. Antigone displayed a fine collection of the clichés that even the London stage has finally managed to just about rid itself of: fences, barbed wire, battledress, battery-powered torches, submachine guns, men in suits…I closed my eyes and endured. To be fair, it got better as the thing went on and they performers relied more on their native wits. And there was a standout performance from counter-tenor Jack Hawkins as Teiresias with very beautiful counter-tenorial music too. But why (for instance) did Antigone dart anxiously upstage and downstage when she was supposed to be processing towards her bridal tomb?
I would have given up and gone home at half-time but I didn’t want to disturb the couple of old dears who had me wedged in. The young woman of East Asian heritage sitting on the other side of me asked whether this was it–I replied that there was another play to come, a comedy indeed.
Then we had Lysistrata done as a musical comedy, and very funny it was too. This time, we had the standout performer (Natasha Cutler-a real musical comedy princess) in the title role, and that helped a lot of course.
The audience also got to sing along with οὐδεὶς οὔτε μοιχὸς οὔτ᾽ ἀνήρ (line 212=no-one, neither lover nor husband), while the surtitles promised a Cambridge Scholarship in Classics for an explanation of the lion-on-a-cheesegrater position. (Line 231 οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος = I won’t crouch down like the lioness on a cheesegrater. You’d better ask Simon Goldhill about that gender reassignment.)
The pedant could of course cavil–once Boris Johnson and Donald Trump had appeared on stage they should have been properly savaged, especially in respect of diminutive and deformed genitalia, while a headless pig looking for David Cameron would have been a good Aristophanic joke. The famously…well, tedious…ball-of-wool metaphor was interpreted via interpretive dance, when one thing it certainly recommends is favourable treatment of useful foreigners–surely an opportunity for further kicking of the Brexit-Trump gang. You can also ask whether a production largely attended by pupils of fee-paying schools could ever permit itself proper Aristophanic obscenity…