Posts Tagged ‘Aristophanes’

Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016



Set for Antigone (picture acquired from Twitter)

So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and LysistrataAntigone 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.


ἀφεκτέα τοίνυν ἐστὶν ἡμῖν τοῦ πέους. (=it is necessary then for us to give up cock).

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.)


No.  Not like that.  Not at all like that.  (Picture from Twitter.)

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…

‘Wasps’ (Greenwood Theatre)/ ‘Clouds’ (Bloomsbury Theatre) 12 February

February 15, 2014


Surprisingly successful curtain-call photo displays modest phalloi and the chorus's natty costume

Surprisingly successful curtain-call photo displays (mostly) modest phalloi and the chorus’s natty costumes

There was a lot to admire about the KCL Wasps (in Greek, with English surtitles)–clearly Rosa Wicks had applied a substantial directorial intelligence to her task, and the realisation of the chorus, dressed in Jazz Age pinstripe suits with yellow ties and performing music based on tunes of the same era was the best I can remember seeing.  Of course, you might claim that introducing modern (not pastiche-ancient) music introduces a whole new alien world of colour and feeling, but I don’t care.  Guys, you were brilliant!

If you’re interested in what to do with the chorus in a Greek play this was was a very instructive evening–the director took the chorus  to a place that can’t have been at all authentic (since the music was too dominant) but where it wasn’t the chorus of a song-and-dance show or an opera either.

Apart from that, there was a certain amount of characters standing around pushing dialogue at each other that will have made little sense to the uninitiated.  The trial of Labes kind of reached the necessary Aristophanic weirdness–especially when Demadogue put forward his case with quite unexpected gentility–and kind of didn’t.  And the transition to the major at the end where Philokleon kicks over the traces and the thing descends into a party went past a bit quickly.  On the other hand, the scene of Dardanis feeling up Philokleon went very well, helped by the traditional British comedy device of hairy bloke in dress and stockings.  Philokleon didn’t necessarily know all of his lines and (more culpably) was a great deal too genteel, when he should have been Steptoe to Bdelykleon’s Son.

At the end, the porter had kindly found the woolly hat that I’d left behind outside and it occurred to me that Aristophanes would have appreciated being staged round the back of an STD clinic.

Picture appropriated from The Tab student nespaper

‘Clouds’ picture appropriated from The Tab student newspaper

‘Clouds’ on the other hand seemed to me to be done rather too matter-of-factly.  Our Strepsiades was certainly vigorous enough, but again far too genteel in expression given that he had married above himself and thus inflicted upon himself a spoiled and spendthrift sun.  (Actually, the visual aid pictured above that demonstrated how Pheidippides got his name was rather funny.)  There was a lot of Strepsiades, Socrates and the Clouds pushing unfunny and incomprehensible dialogue at each other–one the one hand, you really need professional actors to make that kind of thing work and on the other since the plot involves students and teachers you might have expected some local references–but no, not that I noticed.

The places that worked were where the thing reverted to good old-fashioned British slapstick–a theatrical language that both performers and students understood–as when ‘Chris’ was summoned from the audience and made into a fall guy.  The Better Argument’s yearning for the good old days with boys’ genitals not only uncovered but also oiled was quite nice, but not really salacious enough.

See here for what I know about other Greek plays on in London.

Oh, Democracy! Theatro Technis 27 February

February 27, 2013


This was a musical adaptation of The Knights by Aristophanes, of which the original would have been pretty musical anyway.  There is a useful plot summary on Wikipedia–in brief, the People (Demos, an elderly householder) have been taken in by the Paphlagonian Slave (Athenian politician Cleon) and an even more shameless scoundrel–in the form of the Sausage Seller–is needed to save the day.

When I arrived, director George Eugeniou was telling someone that the previous evening’s first night had been something like a dress rehearsal; this was like being present at a workshop and only just managing to avoid taking part on occasions.  The audience were equal in number to the cast, and contained a certain number of claqueurs or at least people who hoped to appear in the show on a future occasion.

The idea of the production was that Europa was dominated by Paphlagoune, who had managed to hoodwink Demos (the people).  The advantage of this was that George Eugeniou could use actors who were not native English speakers without the usual incongruity, while the disadvantage was the lack of hatred and obscene innuendo directed at recognisable targets.   Indeed we Brits have the great advantage over our fellow Europeans that our leaders continue to engage in foreign wars out of cowardice and venality, a good Aristophanic theme that could not be used here.

I suppose it was all rather too genteel:  Marco Aponte was hardly shameless (more of your Italian diamond geezer) as the Sausage-Seller, while Jackie Skarvellis was a muted Cruella De Ville as Paphlagoune.  At least the fart jokes survived, and also provided the best of the song-and-dance numbers–in fact, I enjoyed those, even though the words could not always be distinguished.  And some of the bathetic contrast between fine words and the homely comforts  sufficient to win the heart of Demos worked as well.

Ellen Patterson impressed in the chorus–she could sing and dance, as well as looking pretty.

So why did I enjoy this?  I suppose it was the that workshop thing, the feeling We’re all in this together as someone once tried to claim.

See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.

Later:  It took me 3 days to work out the Brexit joke (like Grexit–Greece leaving the Euro) and another two to decide it was daft since we’re not in the Euro.

Lysistrata, The Albany 16 May

May 16, 2012


Picture from GSMD website

This was rather an engaging production of Lysistrata .  I’m not sure that’s what is required; obscene would be better.  We did benefit by the appearance of some phalloi, but they were rather modest–for full comic effect I think they need to be ludicrously large and to comprise balls as well as cock.

As we went in, men were asked to sit downstairs and women upstairs, which raised worrying possibilities of audience participation.  In the event, some couples naturally enough refused to obey and participation was limited to rhetorical calls for support from the Chorus of Old Men.

Some things worked well: the scene of Myrrhine (Rosie Reynolds) tormenting Kinesias (Jherad Alleyne) with interminable preparations for bed; and also some genuine choral singing at the end–in fact, the use of live  music was good throughout.  I was impressed by Paapa Essiedu’s rough streets-of-London Commissioner, and thought this was an idea that could have been applied more consistently.

On the downside, there was a lack of structure–the opposing men’s and women’s choruses need to reflect each other much more closely than they did here I think.  I often have the feeling at unsuccessful performances of Greek drama that the assembled forces would have been better off doing a modern play, and here my choice would have fallen on the Beaumarchais (not Mozart!) Figaro as a more suitable sex comedy for these charming and good-looking young people. On occasions the pathos of Lysistrata (Michaela Coel) pitting herself against the massed ranks of men also recalled a modern misinterpretation of Antigone.

Ms Coel had some problems with projecting her voice sufficiently and also with dominating the playing area.  That’s what you need for Greek drama–none of this TV-style subtle malarkey.  The same issue of projection affected some of the other actors as well, but Lysistrata really needs to dominate the play named after her.

Overall, what you need is order opposing obscenity.  Nice young women getting their kit off was no more obscene to the Ancient Greeks than it is to us; but stubbly men with monstrous phalloi under their women’s dresses would be.

See here for other Greek plays I know about in London.

Thesmophoriazusae, Classics@Kent/Gulbenkian Theatre 14 March

March 14, 2012


As everyone knows, Thesmophoriazusae involves Euripides persuading his relative Mnesilochus to infiltrate the women who are assembled at the festival of the Thesmophoria and dissuade them from taking their revenge on him for the negative portrayal of women in his tragedies.  So Mnesilochus is first of all disguised as a woman and then uncovered.  With hilarious consequences.

This was the most successful production of a Greek play I’d seen for some time.  I especially enjoyed the brilliant combination of the hero’s giant phallus becoming erect at the most inappropriate moments with the traditional British bra-on-over-dress.  The sexually explicit disco episodes were also highly effective, and some of the scenes where Euripides and Mnesilochus aped the heroes from Euripides’ plays as Euripides tried to rescue Mnesilochus came off.  Some is a great deal better than you normally get.

The scene where Euripides entered suspended from a machina and found himself helplessly facing the wrong way at the critical moments reduced the audience to helpless laughter as well.  And the appearance of Echo, whited-up and dressed in purple to dispute with the Scythian archer was also extremely well handled.

Since this was a student production, we should pay tribute to the effectiveness of the chorus in not appearing young and good-looking.  The usual and forgivable faults of waving arms about and not allowing sufficient pauses can be passed over in silence.  What you need for Greek drama is a director who knows what the play is meant to say and how to put it across, and in this case we had three directors who had certainly worked things out pretty well between them.

Well done everybody, and especially Tom Wright for his very wide-ranging performance as Mnesilochus the Aristophanic Everyman.

(See here for 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.