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Acharnians

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It is the fifth century BC and Dikaiopolis, a peasant who is forced by war to live in the city, has secured an unlikely peace for Athens in their war against the Spartans. However, not all his fellow citizens agree with the new détente between themselves and their hated enemies. It is up to Dikaiopolis, in increasingly farcical circumstances, to defend his anti-war stance and save his precious peace.

In their introduction to the play, translator Kenneth McLeish and editor J. Michael Walton write 'If Sophocles' Oidipous Tyrannos is the very model of an 'Aristotelian' tragedy, a kind of template for the form, then Acharnians could serve the same function for the comedy. The agon, parabasis, alazones scenes, and komos are fine examples of how each should be written . . . In particular the formal dialogues between Dikaiopolis and Lamachos demonstrate the maxim that adherence to rules can liberate the imagination - demonstrate it as triumphantly as Bach's Art of Fugue.'

A timely and timeless comedy, Acharnians was first produced in 452BC during one of the sporadic and unreliable ceasefires in the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta.

Alkestis

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Apollo was exiled for nine years from his Olympian home, he found shelter and hospitality at the palace of King Admetus. To pay him back, Apollo offers Admetus the chance to live beyond the day that fate has decided he will die. There is only one catch: when death comes to get him, Admetus must find a willing substitute.

Having been rebuffed by his aging (but not ailing) father, Admetus finds a willing proxy in his wife, the eponymous Alkestis, who is brought to Death's door, indeed is led through it, only to be rescued by Admetus's old friend Herakles, who wrestles with Death, and wins.

In his introduction, the translator J. Michael Walton writes: 'as a play that is ahead of its time Alkestis has no parallel in the classical world. It looks forward not only to the more domestic tragedy of later Euripides, but also to the social comedy of Menander and to the romances of the Hellenistic, and later, the Roman, world... Euripides may have changed the face of tragedy. He also reinterpreted and gave a new face to the expectations of comedy.'

audio Antigone (Anouilh)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

"The body of Polynices, Antigone's brother, has been ordered to remain unburied by Creon, the new king of Thebes. Antigone's faithfulness to her dead brother and his proper burial, and her defiance of the dictator Creon, seals her fate. Originally produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Anouilh's Antigone was seen by the French as theatre of the resistance and by the Germans as an affirmation of authority.

Includes an interview with translator Christopher Nixon and director Brendon Fox. Also includes an interview with Ned Chaillet, a playwright, radio producer and director for the BBC. Chaillet is the former Deputy Drama Critic for the Times of London and the London theatre critic for the Wall Street Journal-Europe. He spoke with us about Antigone in the context of World War Two, the differences bewtween the original myth of Sophocles and the Anouilh version, and Anouilh’s influence on later playwrights. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Jordan Bridges as Haemon and Guard Dominic Fumusa as Guard Francis Guinan as Creon John Hansen as Guard and Messenger Alan Mandell as Chorus Elizabeth Marvel as Antigone Alley Mills as Nanny Mandy Siegfried as Ismene Directed by Brendon Fox. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles."

Featuring: Jordan Bridges, Dominic Fumusa, Francis Guinan, Alan Mandell, Elizabeth Marvel, Alley Mills, Mandy Siegfried, John Hansen

Antigone (trans. McCafferty)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's version of Sophocles’ Antigone is a muscular take on the ancient Greek tragedy that offers a reflection on the nature of power, democracy and human rights. It was first performed by Prime Cut Productions at the Waterfront Studio Hall, Belfast, in October 2008 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival.

The play takes place in a huge hall within the palace of Creon, the new ruler of Thebes. The palace is in ruins after battle and, although the war has ended, with peace comes conflict. Antigone’s brother Polyneices lies on the battlefield where he fell, his burial outlawed by Creon. Antigone is determined to overrule him and attempts to persuade her sister, Ismene, to join her in rebellion against the king, but to no avail. When Creon discovers that Antigone has disobeyed him and buried her brother, she is captured, a decision that triggers a catastrophic chain reaction resulting in the double suicide of his son Haemon and wife Eurydice.

Sophocles’ tragedy has a powerful resonance in post-conflict Northern Ireland and this version is set entirely within the walls of a palace destroyed by war. Written in his distinctive style, McCafferty highlights the human frailties of these mythic characters by drawing attention to the family saga element of the story.

The Prime Cut Productions premiere was directed by Owen McCafferty and designed by Lorna Ritchie. It was performed by Walter McMonagle, Katy Ducker (as Antigone), Rosie McClelland, Ian McElhinney, Conor MacNeill, Paul Mallon, Harry Towb, Eoin McCafferty, Tom Loane, Chris Corrigan, Julia Dearden, Cat Barter, Barry Etherson and Matt Faris.

Birds

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Tired of the unending wittering of Athenian lawmen, Euelpides and Peithetairos flee the city with their trusty feathered companions. However, their hoped for exile begins with getting lost, and the play opens with them crowing and pecking at one another with all the fury of the most terminally bird-brained democrat.

Which is when they meet 'his Hoopoeness', the once king Tereus, whom they convince to take them up to a new city, high above the base and grounded demos, burying the age-old animosity between birds and men and, ultimately, challenging the mighty Zeus for the top spot in the sky.

Full of the most bawdy of Aristophanes' jokes, and rife with the exasperated cynicism typical of the early satirist of the earliest democracy, Birds is translated in all its irreverent glory by Kenneth McLeish.

Cyclops

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Silenus, father of the Satyrs, has been trapped on Sicily, held prisoner by the Cyclops son of Poseidon, Polyphemus. Silenus is despondent: his captive fate was found when seeking to rescue another god, Dionysus. Instead, it is Silenus and his sons who are prisoners, of a much lesser, more ravenous god.

The potential for rescue comes when Odysseus, the hero strategist of the Trojan War, washes up on the Sicilian shore. His men too get captured, but rather than bemoan his fate, Odysseus connives to destroy the Cyclops once and for all, using wit, wisdom and plenty of wine.

A celebration of the liberating effects of alcohol, Cyclops is a Euripidean take on the Homeric myth, full of jokes, tricks and stagey comedy.

Electra (Sophocles)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Electra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Electra.

In his introduction, J. Michael Walton writes that 'Electra has fed on her hate, absorbing humiliation almost with relish. As the play progresses, so her passion is revealed as having dimensions.' It is these dimensions, rather than the moral conundrum of matricide, which Sophocles brings to life so starkly in his version of the well-known Greek myth.

Elektra (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elektra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Elektra.

Just like Sophocles, Euripides was inspired by Aeschylus's great tragic cycle, the Oresteia. Unlike Sophocles (whose focus was a battered and vilified victim of circumstance, fully justified in seeking revenge), Euripides paints a character with a more confused mindset, one who cannot be fully trusted, not even by her returning twin and brother-in-arms. Euripides allows no easy judgement, forcing his audience to pick over the bones of a moral dilemma, as bloody as it is tragic.

Frogs

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Losing all faith in humanity, and their basest incarnation, the tragedians, Dionysos, god of the theatre, vows to go to the underworld to revive the greatest tragedian of all, the barely cold Euripides, who had died the year before.

Enlisting his servant Xanthias, and asking his half brother Herakles for directions, Dionysos sets off to Hades' Halls, only to find Euripides engaged in a contest with Aeschylus, as to who was the greatest of them all. Dionysos sets himself the task of judging their weighty words, but more often than not these tragedians make him the butt of their jokes.

Described in his introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as 'one of [Aristophanes'] most brilliant comedies', Frogs is a wonderful mix of the living and the dead, of the tragic and the comic.

Herakles' Children

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Herakles' Children is described in the introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as dramatising 'a section of the Herakles myth which seems to explain how initial enmity between Athens and the Pelopennesian state of Argos was, at some remote period of mythological time, replaced by alliance. After Herakles' ascension from earth to Olympos, his mortal rival King Eurystheus of Argos (who had devised his Labours) was afraid that Herakles' sons might grow up to contest the throne. He harried them from town to town across Greece, demanding that they be returned to Argos on pain of invasion. The play takes place after the children, led by Herakles' aged mother Alkmene and his equally decrepit nephew and former companion Iolaos, take refuge in Marathon, a town in Attika not far from Athens.'

The Argives then declare war on Marathon and the Athenians, a war whose victory is underwritten for the Athenians by the decision of Herakles' daughter Makaria, to allow herself to be sacrificed to the gods.

The subsequent defeat of the Argives, and the punishment of Eurystheus, defines the second half of the play, which was first produced some time between 430 and 427 BC, contemporaneously with Euripides' other great plays Hippolytos and Medea.

Modern Greek theatre has its roots in karagiozis (traditional shadow-puppet theatre) and epitheorisi (satirical revue) on the one hand, and in foreign influences on the other. Karagiozis relied on stock characters, but could be used to present anything from ancient Greek tragedy to events and personalities from recent Greek history; its popularity continued to be widespread until the late 1940s. European naturalist and symbolist drama were introduced to Greece by Constantinos Christomanos (1867–1911), who established the influential ‘new stage’ movement (1901–5). The ‘well-made play’ was represented by the problem plays of Gregorios Xenopoulos (1867–1951), which expounded psychological and social issues to middle-class urban audiences. Except for the consciously literary theatre of the poet Anghelos Sikelianos (1884–1951) and the poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957), there were no other significant developments before the advent of the influential (and controversial) director Karolos Koun, who founded the Theatro Technis (Art Theatre) in 1942 and developed its attendant drama school. Koun created a more sophisticated public through productions of foreign plays ranging from Shaw to Albee and reinterpretations of Greek classics. He also fostered a new generation of Greek playwrights whose work was subsequently taken on by other experimental groups and by the National Theatre. The major writers of the postwar period include Loula Anagnostaki, Iakovos Kambanellis (b. 1922), Margarita Lyberaki (b. 1919), Pavlos Matesis (b. 1934), Yiorgios Skourtis (b. 1940) and Vassilis Ziogas (b. 1935). Although they have rejected traditional notions of plot and characterization in favour of absurdist or Brechtian forms, they all, in various ways, combine the expression of existentialist and post-existentialist philosophical values with exploration of the ethical and political problems of contemporary Greece.

Before Koun’s initiative, the major serious theatre was the National Theatre, founded as the Royal Theatre (1900–8), then refounded and reorganized under state control in 1930, with the poet Ioannis Gryparis (1870–1942) as its director. While broadening its repertoire over the years, the National Theatre has continued to specialize in ancient Greek drama. It presents an annual summer season in the amphitheatres in Athens and Epidauros. In 1961 a further state-controlled company, the State Theatre of Northern Greece, was opened in Thessaloniki. Greece has seen two periods of severe disruption. During the first – the Nazi occupation of 1941–4 and the ensuing civil war of 1944–9 – agitprop was used by the resistance while artists like the actress Katina Paxinou and her husband, the director Alex Minotis (1904–90), revived classical Greek drama at the National Theatre. Drama was also politicized during the second period – that of the colonels’ junta (1967–74) – and many artists left the country before democracy was restored.

from Christopher Robinson, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).