‘Sleeping Beauty and Alcestis’

Daniel Morden and friends are bring a new show to Haberdashers’
Monmouth School for Girls on Wednesday, February 11th at 7:30 pm in the
School Hall; it is called ‘Sleeping Beauty and Alcestis’ (and is not
suitable for under 12s). The tickets are £8.

Contact the Head of Classics, Jayne Treasure Tel. 01600 711100

Oedipus in Bexleyheath

I see from the OCR Classics community that there will be performances of Oedipus the King by Sophocles at the Edward Alderton Theatre in Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, Kent (behind Adult Education Centre) from 21st to 28th March (except Sunday).

For more information contact cmadelATcamdengirlsDOTcamdenDOTschDOTuk

Antigone in Manchester receives poor review

The wonderfully named Thalia Allington-Wood is not impressed.

Manchester Confidential

Antigone is a tale of raw emotion. Loss, grief, injustice, betrayal, loyalty, love and pride impregnate this most harrowing of tragedies. Daughter of the Oedipus, destined to destroy his father and marry his mother, Antigone’s life is one of unavoidable sorrow.

Her brothers Eteocles and Polynices, left to rule the city of Thebes, kill each other in battle, and leave their uncle Creon as leader. Creon, a tyrant, decrees that Eteocles shall be buried with honour fitting to a man who has died defending his city, while Polynices shall be left unburied, ‘to be devoured/by dogs and birds, mangled most hideously’. In refusing burial Creon not only dishonours Polynices, ‘but the Gods below, who are despoiled’ – they are denied a soul that is rightfully theirs.

Antigone, brave and resilient, defies her uncle and buries her brother in full knowledge of the punishment. Creon, outraged at her disobedience, sentences her to be buried. Encased in a rock cave, Antigone hangs herself. Creon’s son, betrothed to Antigone, kills himself out of grief, resulting in the additional suicide of Eurydice, Creon’s wife. Thus the Gods punish Creon: he is left alone, having paid for the two deaths he caused. As Tiresias foretells, Creon is forced ‘to make amends for murder, death for death’.

Unfortunately I found Greg Hersov’s production of Antigone at the Royal Exchange confused and unsure of the stance it was taking on the original text. It attempted to place itself both within Greek tradition and the present and it didn’t work.

The tragedy begins at dawn and ends at dusk. No violence is committed on stage. The chorus remains, though greatly diminished. Creon is sinful of hubris (overweening pride) and is punished. Antigone is the complete tragic hero. The set is representative of ancient Greece, dry cracked earth covers the floor, a funeral pyre of ash and sticks stands off centre.

Yet the costumes are modern. Non-descript suits, high heels, flowing country dresses that do not marry with the other visuals of the production. Creon delivers his speech like a presidential candidate and the messengers are army-clad soldiers. His refusal of the rightful burial changes emphasis. This is no longer about him shaming the Gods: it’s reduced to an argument about what’s humanly decent or not. The messengers are figures of fun instead of solemn bringers of distress. Several moments of overwhelming grief are stunted with sarcastic and comically delivered lines.

Now first and foremost Antigone is a tragedy. It is filled with awful and unjust events, pain and emotional suffering. It is at no point meant to be funny.

An example: Antigone is brought to testify in front of her uncle and Ismene, where she is committed to a terrible death. It is a moment of utter desolation. The sisters are never to see each other again; they are preparing for grief and death. When Creon, in Sophocles’ text, proclaims: ‘Of these two girls, one has been driven frantic, the other has been frantic from her birth’, a poignancy is added to their fate, Creon’s tyrannical rule is reiterated and the grief of the situation heightened. Antigone’s death is sealed with his unfeeling observation.

This production’s alternative line: ‘These women are lunatics!’ has the opposite effect. All gravitas falls away. The sister’s tears seem ridiculous. Creon becomes a comic misogynist. Instead of being overcome with sorrow, we laugh. The production seems afraid to let the audience feel the magnitude of the tragedy.

The original text, by Sophocles, is subtle but direct. It is an overtly political play, directly confronting the problems and dangers of anti-democratic leadership. It presents the importance of family bonds and honouring the dead. The words and events in Antigone are strong enough to carry this message, to be plainly relevant in any time period. I wish the Royal Exchange production had realised this. I wish it had been brave enough to stick to a decisive and clear portrayal of a heart-wrenching tale.

Despite these criticisms it is still not a bad performance. Audiences unfamiliar with the original, or interested in modern takes on classic texts, may well enjoy this production. It is a well acted, entertaining and engaging take on Antigone. It is important for theatre to revive old texts, attempt to bring them into modern contexts and to take risks. I applaud Hersoy for having done so.

My personal experience was to sit for the one and a half hours frustrated and annoyed. I have a pre-established relationship with the text. I have studied and formed a loyalty to what I think are the original intentions of the play. It is not that you shouldn’t see this production: you should. More that I would not want to go again.

Antigone, showing until the 8th of November.

The Royal Exchange Theatre
St Ann’s Square
Box office: 0161 833 9833

Agamemnon at Oxford

“The best production of a Greek play I’ve ever seen” one gentleman remarked to me as we walked down Cornmarket after Friday’s matinee performance.

I could understand why he felt that. It was a production that took the text on its own terms, a masterpiece of ceremonial drama as performed during a religious festival, not a fumbling early attempt at realistic theatre.

The set was a blood-red door set against a black background. The acting level came down from this royal entrance by steps to the front of the stage. The chorus, six male singers and six female dancers, used the lower two levels, giving as good a suggestion of being in an orkhestra as is possible with a proscenium arch. The Watchman (Barney Norris) who opened the play perched on scaffolding discreetly positioned to one side of the stage. A small band of musicians performed throughout, almost out of view on the same side.

The chorus wore black robes, and the actors (not quite authentically called ‘protagonists’ in the programme – surely there was only one protagonist in an Athenian play) were ‘suitably attired’. I am sorry if A.E. Housman’s phrase from his ‘Fragment of a Greek Tragedy’ evokes a hint of satire – none is here intended. The costumes were really just right, Clytemnestra’s (Kassandra Jackson) bright and golden, Agamemnon’s (Tom Mackenzie) traditionally heroic, and so on. The carpet, that other essential piece of fabric, was generously large – apparently endless – and generously decorated, so that the ‘esti thalassa..’ speech, claiming that no economies need be made in the palace, was completely justified. As it was being unrolled it made an unexpected loud swishing sound like the sound of surf on pebbles.

What Classicists will probably be most keen to hear about is the quality of the spoken and sung Greek.

My impression is that in almost every way it was superb. I could not fault the vowels; if I had to quibble I might say that the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants was not always preserved. But the standard was very high. Cassandra (Emma Pearce) even delivered some of her most poignant lines with a tonic accent, a difficult feat and a rare treat.

The pace was stately, and the surtitles, a translation by Oliver Thomas, were impeccably synchronised, so that even those (like me) whose Greek is rusty could follow most of it. Incidentally, those surtitles must demand of the actors an extra degree of accuracy. No one can get away with missing out a couple of lines.

Which reminds me that the text was indeed cut, so that the play ran for just two hours. I missed the geographical tour as Clytemnestra tells of the chain of beacons from Troy to Mycenae. I didn’t spot the chorus’ account of the eagles and the hare – I don’t think I dropped off at that point! 

What took time, apart from the deliberate pace of the spoken Greek, were the sung, and danced, choruses. The singers, from counter-tenor to bass, were all choral scholars or music students, most with operatic experience, and it showed. The music that they sang, written by Tim Benjamin, a former winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year composer’s award, was mostly monodic, but as the drama progressed there were open fifths and fourths, and finally real minor chords. The economy of style, together with the small number of instruments, reminded me strongly of Britten’s Curlew River. I was not surprised to read that the Choral Director, Oliver Hamilton, had worked on that Church Parable.

Every word that the chorus uttered, singly or together, was sung, even the individual contributions on hearing the death-cries of the King. This underlined how far Aeschylus is from realistic drama. When studying the text we puzzle over these seemingly pointless contributions – why don’t these 12 men rush into the palace and do something? When they sing, we understand why not. By the way, the matinee was attended largely by school parties – three cheers for their teachers for bringing them – and the students were on the whole very well-behaved. One of the only two or three titters of the afternoon came when a counter-tenor or alto sang alone, and that was a momentary one.

Another Curlew River influence – or rather Noh Play influence – was on movement and gesture. Actors were completely still except when a significant gesture was needed. The Herald (Raymond Blankenhorn) had rather large gestures, which reminded me rather unfortunately of a marionette, but I do like the minimal style.
I shall not mention everyone involved. The play website gives the full details. Incidentally, when I was speaking to the designer of the site, he told me that he is involved in setting up a website for the Oxford Latin Course, which should be on line in December.
The one other person whose name caught my eye is our good friend Lizzie, Elizabeth Sandis of Oxford Classical Outreach. (Note to Lizzie – you are still called Belcher on that page!) She had the grand title of Executive Producer, so to her, and to all who put the show on, hearty congratulations.

When I said to Clytemnestra’s mum, who was sitting next to me, after the show that she must be very proud, I wasn’t just being polite.

Things to do with a Classics degree: No. 3579

I’ve just got back from Bristol where my friend and I attended a fine performance of La Boheme at The Hippodrome. (Excuse me a moment while I wring out my handkerchief which got soaked during the last act deathbed drama.)

It was by the Chisinau National Opera, and the production was directed by Ellen Kent, who has been bringing international operatic companies to Great Britain for the past 10 years or so.

The set, which is apparently the same for all the operas in their repertoire this season, is a kind of section of a Roman amphitheatre, surmounted by excellent classical statues.

The programme tells us that Ellen Kent went for the Roman setting because she is a Classics graduate of Durham University.

So when parents ask at parents’ evenings ‘What can my daughter do with her Classics?’ you have yet another answer. Be a highly successful operatic director.

By the way, the juxtaposition of ‘Kent’ and ‘Opera’ brings back to mind the late lamented and excellent Kent Opera, murdered by the Arts Council (if I remember right). I vividly remember a performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in the Bath Theatre Royal, oh, 30 or more years ago, stunning in its scenery, its acting (which took a lot from Noh drama), the orchestration and the singing.

(What has this got to do with Classics? do I hear you cry? Well, who can be more classical that Orpheus?)

Le Gendre adapting Heaney adapting Sophocles at The Globe

The Telegraph arts bulletin included this:

The Burial at Thebes

Derek Walcott directs Dominique Le Gendre’s operatic adaptation of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Aeschylus’ play. Shakespeare’s Globe, London SE1 (020 7740 9919), Sat and Sun.

I have a vague feeling that Burial at Thebes is a a translation of Antigone, and an even vaguer notion that it was not Aeschylus who wrote Antigone.

But I hope it keeps fine for the production. I haven’t yet seen a production in The Globe, but if and when I do, I shall hope to see Shakespeare…

Go and see ‘Medea’ in Altrincham in December – free

This has been passed on to me, and I am happy to pass it on. I have removed the @ in the email address. Don’t want to make it too easy for spammers…

Subject: Medea

I’m the new Head of Classics at Loreto Grammar School for girls in
Altrincham and thought I would let you know that we’re putting on a
production of Euripides’ Medea in December.  We are intending to do a
schools’ matinee performance on Monday 8th December at 2pm free of
charge to any schools who would like to attend.  The evening
performances will be on 8th adn 9th December and tickets will be sold
for these.  Could you pass this information on and ask anyone who is
interested to email me so that I can add them to my mailing list and
give them confirmed details nearer the time.

Thank you
Gemma Ball (loreto.classics(at)traffordlearning.org)

The Oxford Greek Play

From the University of Oxford Classics Outreach Officer:

Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 October
The University of Oxford Classical Drama Society presents
The Oxford Greek Play
By Aeschylus

A story of sacrifice, treachery and adultery, Aeschylus’ play is as
powerful and as relevant today as it was at its premiere in 458 BC.

The play will be performed in Greek with English surtitles and the
performance features specially-commissioned masks echoing the
traditions of Greek Tragedy. Join us for an inspiring and very exciting

This is a triennial event, held at the Oxford Playhouse.
Tickets for schools (including for teachers) are priced at £8.50 each.

Education events for schools and other groups accompany this production,
please see the ‘What’s On’ page of the Oxford Classics Outreach website
for details:

Also available is an education pack featuring articles and summaries which
can be used to help guide students through the most important aspects of
 Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the genre of Greek Tragedy in general.
Visit the Oxford Greek Play website to download the education pack
and find out more about the cast and crew involved in this production:

Tickets for the Oxford Greek Play and the educational events which
accompany the production can either be bought via the Schools Liaison
Officer Henry Cullen (please email henry.cullen@balliol.ox.ac.uk)
or via the Oxford Playhouse (www.oxfordplayhouse.com 01865 305305)


It’s a particularly exciting week for Greek Tragedy enthusiasts!
Explore the world of Sophocles with this groundbreaking opera of
The Antigone:

Sunday 19 October at 7.30pm
A new opera after Sophocles’ Antigone
Words by Seamus Heaney, music by Dominique Le Gendre

This world premiere production brings together some of the world’s
most revered musicians, theatre makers and poets, spanning
generations and continents.

Tickets: £15, 25, 30
To book please visit the Oxford Playhouse website: www.oxfordplayhouse.com
Or telephone the Playhouse Box Office: 01865 305305

Year 6 video of Prometheus and Pandora on the Minimus website

I enjoyed this cleverly edited video of the Prometheus story acted in Latin. I suppose one might hear some rumores senum severiorum about some of the pronunciation, but it's a good production. You can see the script on the Minimus blog.

Euripides' Hippolytus in Gilbert Murray's translation in Oxford

Dear Colleagues,

Please find the details below for a production of one of Euripides'
most famous and influential tragedies, to be staged at New College Oxford
next month.

All best wishes
Lizzie Belcher


Euripides' Hippolytus

In the Cloisters at New College, University of Oxford

(Full address: New College, Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3BN)

Thursday 5th – Saturday 7th June 2008 at 7.45pm

Directed by David Raeburn, Lector in Classics at New College.
David has translated a number of tragic texts for the Oxford World's Classics
series, and recently published an acclaimed version of Ovid's Metamorphoses
for Penguin.

Performed in English, using the famous translation by Gilbert Murray. This
production celebrates the 100th anniversary of Murray's election to the Regius
Chair of Greek at the University of Oxford.

The production will feature Pre-Raphaelite costumes reflecting the way in
which classical subjects were portrayed in the late Victorian period.

Follow this link for more information:


For tickets please email euripides.hippolytus@googlemail.com or buy on the

Overview of the play:

Euripides’ great play, first performed in 428 BC, explores one of the byways
of human sexuality with the choices and mistakes that mortals can make under
the pressure of life’s disturbances. Theseus’ bastard son, Hippolytus,
dedicates himself exclusively to Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting, and
abjures all sex. Aphrodite, the goddess who personifies Desire, is insulted
and takes her revenge by making the young man’s stepmother, Phaedra,
passionately in love with him. This sets in motion a chain of catastrophic
events, redeemed only by a capacity for forgiveness in humans which is lacking
in the gods.