Posts Tagged ‘Euripides’

Bacchae in Oxford, 21 October

October 23, 2017

Picture from OGP20217 FB page

It cannot be said that my trip to Oxford for the Greek Play was a great success.  I discovered that the classical section of Blackwell’s had been moved up a floor to make way for the coffee shop )and the second-hand section had been reduced as well).  I felt mildly interested by a Collected Papers of Milman Parry but not enough to buy it.  I also visited the Oxfam Bookshop, as one does.

At the Oxford Playhouse, people had been moved forwards, sometimes into seats already occupied by others, and the masses of private school pupils were silent like a field of turnips.

Gosh, it was just so boring!  It seemed to have been reimagined as a ballet from the 1930s with music by Sir Arthur Bliss and an Art Deco cube for the set, but the chorus hardly moved, never mind getting off the ground.  The idea of having three Dionysuses meant there was never even an illusion of Pentheus confining them or him, and though Pentheus delivered his lines effectively that would not hold my interest on its own.

Then the thing had ground along so slowly there was an INTERVAL, so I rushed off to the station and quite by chance came across the rather lovely Chiltern Railway train to Marylebone, which also had decent free WiFi.  And there was a trilingual announcement in English, Arabic and Chinese at Bicester Village Retail Outlet.

Gosh, that was so exciting!  And not so long after I was back in South London!

Alkestis, Greenwood Theatre 1900 10 February

February 11, 2016


We have been asked whether we would recommend a visit to the 2016 Greek Play, on the basis of the Wednesday evening performance–after all, Edith Hall did tweet 2016 King’s College London Greek play better than ever.

I think it would be worth seeing as a reasonably typical example of the KCL Greek Play, illustrating the difficulties one faces in staging such a thing and the way one might go about solving them.  One of these issues is that one does not have actors experienced in voice projection and dominating the stage.  So having them follow what I think was ancient performance practice by miming what the were talking about was a good idea, while having Alkestis deliver many of her lines at the stage rather than the audience was not.

It’s worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the Alkestis-derived Cocktail Party I recently saw in Notting Hill, none of the actors fluffed their lines–advanced electronic prompting may have been employed to this end.  But there was systematic underplaying, especially from Heracles, who may perhaps have been reading his lines from the label on his bottle of wine.

The dance passages were the most effective and some of the choreography was very good.  I’m not sure that the director ever came to a clear idea about what she was trying to do–the programme made great play of a contemporary setting, which in the event appeared only in the form of cocktail glasses and a wind-up gramophone–and she hadn’t established control over time, so that some important passages (such as Herakles asking who had died or indeed Admetos finding out who Heracles had brought to him) passed by quickly and some more routine passages didn’t.

It looked like the choral odes had been solved at the last moment by getting one person to read them via a recording over a musical backing, which may have been somewhat of a last-minute expedient.

We had certain technical problems on the night.  The scene changes lasted a long time, which may have been deliberate but if so that still wasn’t a good idea. There were also problems with the lighting cues, and especially with the surtitles, which were often a line or more early or late and ceased entirely towards the end, leaving the audience rather puzzled as to what if anything had happened to conclude the piece.

There was indeed a facility to buy tickets at the door, to answer another question…

Medea in the Amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery 13 March

March 13, 2013



Still from rehearsal video gives some idea of the proceedings

Let’s be practical here.  To start off with, you want the entrance on Basinghall Street, and I think you need to arrive early to get a good seat either right at the front or in the banked seating at the back.  Actually I managed the latter even though I did not arrive early and hence or otherwise did not encounter any programme-buying opportunities, although a few people in the audience had them.

Oh yes, the seating is not amphitheatre-like at all, but long and narrow like an emaciated church.  And in my section at the back, a young woman spectator was telling her friend about an elaborate plan for revenge on a man…she wasn’t a plant either…

As everyone knows, this was a production of Medea using original performance practice as far as possible, even if not on the same scale, as a very thoughtful essay on the event website points out.  So we had masks, an all-male cast, the chorus singing to the accompaniment of a solo flute.  Sometimes it was just interesting in an antiquarian kind of way, sometimes you felt this is the way it was meant to be as you felt something of the power of Greek tragedy.  Perhaps this was particularly the case with Medea, where you felt the male will and intellect trapped behind the white woman’s mask.  The actor here delivered his lines with an effective dying fall, but not so you could always make them out at the back–in contrast to Jason, who was always audible and never convincing, just as a Jason is meant to be.

But there was so much that worked much better than it normally does.  The stylised acting gave due gravity and spacing to the action, the chorus worked very well–their excursions up the aisle were especially effective–and the general reflections on life and fate for once seemed to be organically connected with the action.

We say:  well done to all concerned…

And I’m well impressed by Sophie Richards, who not only brought this enterprise into being, but also provided a pretty damn good translation.

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

Iphigenia in Aulis, Brockley Jack 02 October

October 3, 2012


Picture from Lazarus Theatre Company Facebook page

This was billed as a preview.

The play started with an elaborate session of sound-and-movement, in the spirit of the same company’s Hecuba, then morphed into semi-darkness with lighting from the side as in their Trojan Women.  The Abraham-and-Isaac style happy ending was dispensed with, as was the corresponding explanation of why Artemis had taken against the Greeks in the first place.  Agamemnon was played (by Wayne Reid) as a kindly buffer swept up in events beyond his control, while the faux domestic scenes between him and Clytemnestra (Jocelyn Weld Forester) were just embarrassing.

Many of the parts were severely underplayed, in particular the matter-of-fact acquiescence of Achilles (Jack Greenlees) to marrying Iphigenia–not marrying Iphigenia–his honour being impugned by not saving  Iphigenia.  The man is a crazed homicidal narcissist FFS!   Of course, none of this was helped by the normal problems of playing Greek tragedy in a space vastly smaller than originally intended–happenings that are meant to allow time for expectation, apprehension and release pass by affectlessly like telegraph poles seen from a train.

Director/Designer Gavin Harrington-Odedra also didn’t help himself by effectively abolishing entrances and exits with his penumbra.

Comparing this with their Trojan Women makes me think that having the wrong idea about a Greek tragedy is a great deal better than having no idea at all…

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

The Bacchae, Theatro Technis 02 March

March 3, 2012


This performance began with the brightly-dressed bacchants maenadising among the really quite lively crowd waiting to be let in, and then continued with dry ice, reasonably ecstatic dancing, and Dionysus entering as a rock god with an electric guitar.  Then it really didn’t go anywhere.  The new Ranjit Bolt translation into  bathetic rhyming couplets didn’t help and once it had made its initial impression the conceit of setting the play as in a music festival didn’t seem to be going anywhere either.  If we’re at a rock concert, then women running wild is just what you expect, not a horrifying inversion of the natural order of things, while authority undermined by a prinked and perfumed foreigner is also hardly shocking.  Which it should be.

I’m not sure that someone who didn’t already know the story would have been able to catch enough of the words to work out what was going on.  Some of the choruses where the chorus sang were actually quite effective, and the scene of Dionysus seducing Pentheus showed signs of promise.  But the thing seemed to plod along at an unvarying tempo–surely you want some kind of a slowing so that the audience can imagine with horror what will happen once Pentheus gets up Mount Cithaeron?  Or once Agave realises what she has done?

I’m afraid that what we got from Agave here was completely inadequate, as was the least impressive severed head I’ve ever seen.   It was also off-putting that Cadmus, grandfather of Pentheus,  was clearly even younger than the rest of the cast.  But I did think that given some more performances Jack Riddiford (Dionysus)  and Stuart Mortimer (Pentheus) might make something interesting of their roles.

This is really one for friends and family of the cast I think…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.


Iphigenie auf Tauris Sadlers Wells 31 October

November 3, 2010


The useful sheet of A4 we got with the completely uninformative programme described this both as ‘An opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck’ and ‘A dance-opera by Pina Bausch’.  And indeed singers sang from the ends of the second circle near the stage while dancers danced on it and players played in front of it.

The plot was perhaps rather complex to convey in surtitle-less German singing, and the explanation of Iphigenie dreaming both that Clytaemnestra killed Agamemnon (which has happened) and Iphigenie herself killing Orestes (which doesn’t happen) didn’t really help matters.

The dance involved quite a lot of dancers holding their arms in poses reminiscent of ancient pictures of dancing and also Thoas madly slapping himself on the arms.

At the interval, my companion asked why Orestes didn’t just say who he was (or sing or dance who he was perhaps) and let us go home an hour earlier.  I suggested various reasons, while skirting round the obvious one that recognition scenes were something that Euripides did quite well really (for a total bungler).

Towards the end, a young girl slowly strewed the kitchen table on which Orestes was to be sacrificed with flowers, and then a ladder was brought on, which procedure led to the people sitting behind us corpsing totally (though they certainly tried hard to suppress it).

I think my problem here was that there was just too much plot going on that was hard to understand…

Hecuba New Diorama Theatre 10 August

August 10, 2010


At the beginning of this production, Paula James as Helena sang

Sophisticated, complicated, Troy is at its prime

among a crowd of celebrating Trojans.  Then they clapped in slow motion and fell together in appalled slow motion as Troy was captured.  I detected an active theatrical intelligence at work.

Then it all rather went into Greek drama autopilot for me.  The Trojan women were dressed in nice clean white robes showing no sign of rough handling and the mean were in nice clean black suits.  They made nice pictures nicely-lighted on stage but I was somehow uninvolved.  As Polyxena, Jasmyn Burke seemed to be taking her sacrifice rather too calmly from the beginning, not coming to see it finally as the way to maintain her noble freedom.

As for Natalie Lesser as Hecuba–how do you do Greek tragedy on a scale that is so different from the one intended?   I think you can shout and scream and try to physically dominate the audience (who are after all not so far away) or speak very softly so they can hardly hear and are all the time afraid of losing you.  This production was very much stuck in the middle.  It also ended with what probably seemed like comic nonchalance to an audience who may not have appreciated the prophetic force of the final denunciation of Hecuba from Polymestor (Simon Wegrzyn).  Surely his struggle with the Trojan women and blinding should have been drawn out to hellish length, to provide some balance in the arc of the play at least?  Here it tailed off quite tamely after just over an hour.

What about the chorus?  Here, they basically made nice pictures on stage, which I didn’t find very inspiring.

There was a man (presumably director Ricky Dukes) sitting in the middle of the back row with a diffuse source of light and a loose-leaf folder making (as it seemed) copious notes.  I wonder what they said?

New Diorama Theatre--certainly new to me!

Hippolytus White Bear Theatre 19 May

May 20, 2010


A bit of a disaster!

Well, let’s look on the bright side.  There weren’t any flagrant cuts.  The set–whitewashed walls and a twisted tree thing–was perfectly sensible.  The costumes were generally serviceable, and the dress that Artemis wore at the end was truly lovely. In fact both Aphrodite and Artemis were effectively kitted out, with contrasting gold and silver paint on their faces, so we had ‘golden Aphrodite’ and Artemis with a crescent moon round her eye-socket.

Artemis (from Tough Theatre FB page)

And some of the performances were very good.  As Aphrodite (and one of the chorus), Charlotte Powell managed to get the light and colour and meaning into her lines that were missing from the adaptation by David Crook, and as Artemis Daphne Alexander was truly goddess-like at the end.  The young and cocky (rather than priggish) Hippolytus of Nick Lawson had his moments, as did the Chorus of Cameron Harris.

In fact, Charlotte Powell did an even better job of making something out of almost nothing than she did in the Yorkshire Tragedy a few months ago.

That’s about it.

On the minus side: the idea of treating Greek tragedy as a realistic story  of domestic mishaps is always wrong–Greek tragedy was a large-scale public event that explained how things are–and the new version grated severely on me as well.  The prevailing language was one of bureaucratic cliche–for all the characters.  So we had Phaedra talking of Ariadne’s pained and crisis-ridden relationship with Dionysus, and the most famous line –when Hippolytus says that his tongue was sworn and his heart unsworn when he made a promise to the Nurse–was rendered as I merely recited a formula.

And then strangely enough, as in the original, Theseus told the servants to unbar the doors [originally the doors of a hut thing at the back of the stage] so that he could see the body of Phaedra…and they brought her in on a litter, when there’s a door at the side of the White Bear stage that would have done perfectly well for her to stay hidden behind while Theseus registered shock, grief and anger.

Another photo from Tough Theatre FB page

Mike Aherne (Theseus) and Natasha Alderslade (Phaedra) were especially…unsuccessful…at making anything of the rubbish they were given to speak.  And there were strange directorial decisions: characters were rather too often addressing the back wall (or the far corner) rather than the audience, while I didn’t understand why the Nurse was using a generalised North Country accent to deliver the same kind of high-flown verbiage as the noble characters.

It would be unfair to mention the actors who fluffed their lines–I think that tomorrow is  Press Night, so this was in the nature of a preview perhaps.

Oh well.

Northern Medea In Oxford

January 7, 2010

The Oxford Playhouse have emailed as follows:

Northern Broadsides in association with The Onassis Programme present


By Euripides – a new version by Tom Paulin

Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February


This Medea is a contemporary take of classic Greek tragedy. Its monumental storyline features one of theatre’s most spectacularly vengeful women. Abandoned by her husband, Medea wreaks revenge through unspeakable acts of violence, unleashing a hurricane of destruction in a world where everything has gone horribly wrong.

The North

The North

Tom Paulin’s gritty modern language version brings real punch and immediacy to the drama. Powered by the muscularity of Northern Broadsides’ northern voice and vigour of its actors, Medea will be a theatrical event where poetry and live music ignite on stage, giving real clout to this timeless drama.  Northern Broadsides is one of the UK’s most celebrated exponents of classic drama, consistently creating world-class theatre with a voice style firmly rooted in the north of England. Renowned for its down to earth and high-energy approach, Broadsides’ have an inimitable style, which is fresh, authentic and unique.


Medea plays at Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February. For information and to book, contact the Ticket Office on 01865 305305 or visit our website at: