Posts Tagged ‘Aeschylus’

The Suppliant Women, Northern Stage Newcastle, 04 November

November 5, 2016



Picture from Wear Valley Advertiser–don’t blame me if it’s from another location


You have to admire the sheer audacity of this production, and the attempt to make Greek drama the central event in the life of the city, the way it used to be.

As everyone knows, the basis of the story is that the 50 daughters of Danaos have fled to Argos from Egypt to claim sanctuary in their ancestral homeland (though they look foreign–it’s complicated) and avoid marriage with the 50 sons of Aiguptos, their cousins.

At the beginning, Omar Ebrahim introduced the play and a local dignitary in charge of Arts and Education who thanked the audience for providing 50% of the funding, the taxpayer for 40%, private donors for 5% before suggesting that the remaining 5% could be made up from bar takings.

The standout feature of the evening was of course the chorus of local women (well, lasses more like) who sang beautifully and danced effectively–when the chorus sang in parts accompanied by drum and aulos that really was something alien and beautiful.  We did also get to enjoy Aeschylus as a religious thinker, coming to the idea of a supreme god and the doctrine of grace without benefit of revelations in the Judaean or Arabian desert.  And as a convinced proponent of democracy–Pelasgos although king refers the decision as to what to do about the Danaids to the citizens of Argos, and  they decide, well,…

What didn’t work so well for me was the way that towards the end the adaptor David Greig after holding out valiantly could no longer resist falling into modern feminist and human-rights attitudes–Aeschylus is more complicated than that, and so is our life.  The whole point of Greek tragedy is to abstract and distance and transcend the categories of thinking they normally used (never mind us). But a production that realises the main thing is the ideas, not some sordid family misfortune, and the main way of conveying it is  the chorus is very very close to the right path.

And what daring, what audacity, what vision…

I sit through one part of the Almeida ‘Oresteia’: Facebook exchanges and other reflections

August 25, 2015
Iphigeneia clutches her teddy-bear

Iphigenia clutches her teddy-bear

Have invested in a half-price ticket for the Almeida’s five-star, critically-acclaimed, award-winning *chorusless* Oresteia. That may turn out to have been a brave decision…

Brave? How about reckless?

With Greek drama, the first and main question is what they have done with the chorus.  If they’ve just left it out, the only thing is to stay away.  I knew that perfectly well.  But I was curious.

The portion I succeeded in sitting through was misguided in the way I expected, but rather more inept. The remaining 2/3 *may* have been wonderful, But I somehow doubt it. Let’s hope for better luck with ‘Tamburlaine’ tomorrow!

oh dear!

the first bit of the Oresteia is usually the best! I have a ticket for 19th September frown emoticon

The first part here is more like the adapter’s ruminations on ‘Iphigeneia in Aulis’, so his ‘Agamemnon’ may follow after. I was in a very small minority with my views here, so you will soon be able to judge between me and the rest of the world. Call me Antigone…or an old man with wrinkled female dugs…or Cassandra would be quite appropriate…

so the first third still hasn’t reached Agamemnon? that doesn’t sound good

No it was Iphigenia in Aulis, but different. **SPOILER** Iphigenia is not a young woman of marriageable age by the rather regrettable Greek standards, able to understand and comment on what she is suffering, but a primary-school-age girl who is chemically put down without knowing the first thing about it…

The whole point about Greek tragedy, indeed Greek literature in general, is that you suffer the most terrible things, but you are able to see them, to understand them, and to react to them in words.  The deliberate unmerited killing of a young woman who has the agency to understand, react and express is the extremity of human evil while it is still human.  Putting down an unaware little girl like an unwanted dog is something very different and much, much worse–the kind of punishment the divinity will inflict on you for the first misdeed.

It is hard to imagine that a random person plucked off the street could react with words so inadequate if he found himself in Agamemnon’s position.  Some poetry–even the poetry of pauses–is obligatory.  What we had here might at best pass for some also-ran Ibsen in the hands of a third-rate translator.

oooh well I think I will just close my eyes for now and hope it is all better than I am imagining it!

Closing your eyes won’t help you with Clytaemnestra’s Samantha-Cameron-style mockney accent. But–who knows!–there may be a Cassandra and she may rave & rage like no Cassandra has ever done before…

Sam Cam as Clytemnestra! sacrilege! Though there is the germ of a good idea if we could get her an axe …

It was Blair who deserved an axe.  Cameron is more of an Aegisthus.

Actually, if you don’t come handicapped by knowledge of Greek drama, or modern theatrical practice, and you go to a matinee so that you don’t have a pressing need to go home for your tea and some chores, this may be a perfectly acceptable way of spending some time.  

It apparently enjoyed some success in North London.  

There’s a ticket offer on the Almeida site here and the Leicester Square booth may well have tickets on the day; Theatremonkey may also have some offers.

Finishing off Agamemnon at Madingley Hall

November 30, 2014
Happy Helllenists

Happy Hellenists

I strike him twice and in two cries of oimoi
his limbs gave way, and I give him once fallen
a third blow in addition

A slightly reinforced group completed its assault on the most formidable text in surviving Greek literature under the leadership of Tony Verity, who congratulated his team on their heroic achievement.  The seven participants each in turn read aloud and translated passages of 10-15 lines and the group covered a bit more than 100 lines per 90-minute session.  I certainly learned some interesting things about the use of different metres and how the agon between two parties sometimes came down to whose metre would prevail.

During our free time on Saturday afternoon, I wandered round the grounds and took some photographs (as well as getting muddy).

Madingley Hall in the Autumn sunshine

Madingley Hall in the Autumn sunshine

We also had a talk from Dr Lucilla Burn of the Fitzwilliam Museum on Greek Myths (as illustrated by Greek vases).

Enigmatic vase from the Fitzwilliam with pigs

Enigmatic vase from the Fitzwilliam with pigs

More about Greek at Madingley here.

Half of ‘Agamemnon’ at Madingley Hall (12-14 September)

September 16, 2014
A refractory passage from the 'Agamemnon'

A refractory passage from the ‘Agamemnon’

To start off with, Tony Verity emailed us:

A message for you in preparation for tackling Aeschylus at his most baffling.

To the brave Aeschylus group:

I’d forgotten how tough the Greek is in Agamemnon, especially the parodos and choruses. I must have read the play a dozen times, but I’m still finding it hard here and there to puzzle out the language, much to my annoyance. It’s not helped by the text being dodgy in places.

We were in fact due to go as far as line 809 this time, with the remainder to come in November.  The six brave souls assembled were keen to tackle every last knotty problem in the Greek text, though some may have suffered more than others in the attempt.  As I explained to more than one person over dinner, the format was to go round the group in order with each student reading aloud then translating, and the tutor helping and commenting.  We did in fact manage the to achieve the scheduled 809 lines by means of a spirited joint attack on the chorus at the end.

I think this was about the most rewarding Greek reading group I’ve been to,  probably due to having a small group and a text that forced itself in people’s attention, as well as a very inspiring tutor.  The other candidate would be doing Aristotle with the great and good Barbara Goward, where once again the text made claims that a rather small group could not dismiss as that’s all very lovely.

We had a talk from Malcolm Schofield, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, and he also called the Agamemnon the most formidable text in surviving Greek literature.  Apart from that, he was talking about love and the Symposium, where Aristophanes had defined love as the desire for wholeness, Agathon as the desire for beauty, and Diotima as the desire for immortal goodness.  After that, Alcibiades had rather muddied the waters.  One was not meant to understand the character of Socrates, and there was a lot about him that was unappealing.

We also had a meeting to discuss future texts for the Advanced groups, and I discovered (what I had not noticed) a set pattern:  Homer for both groups in February, a shorter text for both the poetry and prose groups in May, and one longer piece of poetry/prose occupying both September and November.

In giving general suggestions for courses on my feedback form, I suggested that on the one hand Madingley could do life skills courses aimed at their specific demographic (to be based on research evidence of course):  Preparing for retirement, Managing your investments, while on the other hand recidivist readers of classical texts might benefit from some systematic instruction in linguistics, a course in Proto-Indo-European/historical linguistics, a course on the Ancient Economy (especially demography).

You can see the Madingley course listing here.  Do feel free to  write to me  if you have a query about all this I might be able to help with!





Oresteia, Riverside Studios 03 March

March 4, 2012


Picture from

Another evening, another set of fingernails scrabbling on the marble surface of Greek tragedy and finding no purchase.  To be fair, this was technically much better than yesterday evening’s Bacchae–you could make out almost all that was said–but there was really no sign that the director had got on terms with the work.

One of the main problems–which is of course very common–was the reduction in scale as against the original that took up a pretty hefty proportion of the Athenian state’s disposable surplus.  I think the Furies are supposed to be frightening in their multitudinous indistinguishability, but here there were three of them.  Similarly, we had a rather tokenistic piece of net that would have made a nice shawl for Agamemnon instead of fatally entangling him and killings were carried out with dagger rather than sword and axe.  Agamemnon was also wearing modesty-preserving black trunks to have his bath, so obviously he suspected something.  If Clytemnestra kills him with a dagger, which can be a woman’s weapon to us, then it’s not transgressive the way it ought to be.

The version by Ted Hughes showed poetic promise (and a keen interest in the harsher aspects of the natural world), but perhaps the process of abridgement prevented it from reaching full power.  Either he or the chorus fluffed one of the crucial lines, about Agamemnon putting on the harness of necessity, which explains both him and Orestes.  The performance ran from 1930 to 2150 with an interval of twenty minutes or so, which is not long for a whole trilogy.  The lack of time showed in the trial of Orestes, who stood around for a couple of minutes while arguments were exchanged–and then he was free.  Some waiting and suspense while the votes were counted would have been a good idea.  I think that Athena is supposed to be young, calm and virginal–here she resembled a harassed Tessa Jowell and she seemed to have a wedding ring as well.

The lack of grovelling deference shown to gods and other superiors worried me as making the whole basis of the work incomprehensible, and casting each part with a different actor as though it was a modern play meant a lot of actors had rather little to do and it became very episodic.

I thought that George Siena as Apollo was good: otherworldly and imposing as he ought to be.  Clare Porter (Clytemnestra),Tobias Deacon (Orestes) and Laura Morgan (Electra) looked like a family–but why did Electra have such a nice dress if she’s the local Cinderella?–and the fatal scene between Orestes and Clytemnestra was promising but vitiated by misapplied modest naturalism.

Oh well, better luck next time…In fact, we did have better luck last time!  And see here for other Greek plays I know about in London.

Greek Drama in London 2011

December 25, 2010

Information from this posting has now been movd to an updated page here.


Agamemnon Camden People’s Theatre 22 October

October 23, 2010


WWII schtick in prospect

I can’t say that I approached this adaptation of Aeschylus by Action to the Word with any great hopes:

But it’s another outbreak of Gratuitous WWII disease!  NOooo!!!

and I was quite right.  The WWII setting seemed to be entirely gratuitous (apart from oh-so-clever Holocaust references) since WWII  wasn’t in any way an intra-family conflict the way that (for instance) WWI was.  That might have worked, both from the ‘cousin Nicky’ angle and the Wilfred Owen senseless sacrifice one.

Anyway, this production had the choruses in rather (perhaps, to be fair, deliberately) gauche rhyming verse and a feeling that the company would rather be doing Titus Andronicus (their next show I think) instead and wade through lots of blood.  Of course, one of the points of Greek tragedy is to maintain a high–almost unbearable–level of emotional tension by keeping the violence locked within formal constraints, while here the company had rather blundered into doing the opposite.

Programmes were among the things lacking, but it is possible to work out who did what to some extent here.  I thought that Laura Gallacher made a strong and commanding impression as Clytaemnestra, in spite of being young and good-looking, but nobody else did!


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

That is more or less the explanation for the sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Greek Drama in London 2010

October 27, 2009

A good year for Aeschylus

We hear that UCL will be doing “Choephoroi” and “Eumenides” (in English) from 10-12 February at the Bloomsbury Theatre–further details are now available here.  Meanwhile, KCL will be doing “Persae” in Greek at the Greenwood Theatre–details  here.

And so far it’s 3/3 for Aeschylus!

Now you can read our account of the UCL production here, and of the Persae here. And I’ve added some new listings (as of  3 May) here.