Funny, isn’t it, how Greek tragedy has trends? After all, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Euripides et al all died two and a half millennia ago. Yet there are very definite trends in which Greek tragedies still gets performed – at least in London.
Yesterday, for example, the Almeida unveiled its year-long Greek tragedy season. Whoopee! Good news for all us who like Greek tragedies. Except…
…far be it from me to complain, as this isn’t exactly a commonplace event, and perhaps I should be grateful for whatever comes my way, but let’s have a look at what’s being performed.
- 29 May to 18 July: Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, with Lia Williams as Clytemnestra
- 23 July to 19 September: Euripides’ The Bacchae, with Ben Whishaw as Dionysus
- 25 September to 14 November: Euripides’ Medea, with Kate Fleetwood as Medea
Lovely plays, obviously. And yet, in February alone, we had two versions of The Bacchae performed at the Bloomsbury Theatre and Theatro Technis. Last year, saw both the National and Riverside Studios putting on versions of Medea. And a little before that, Riverside also put on The Oresteia, which will also be produced by The Globe this summer.
This repetition isn’t isolated to the Almeida’s offerings, either. This month, the Barbican is hosting Juliette Binoche in a version of Sophocles’ Antigone, which BBC Four are going to broadcast as part of its forthcoming ’The Age of Heroes’ season. But you can also see a different version tonight at the Westminster Arts Library.
On top of that, Antigone, of course, was the National’s last Greek tragedy before Medea and – you guessed it – was also performed at Riverside Studios the same year. Meanwhile, KCL’s Greek play this year was Aristophanes’ The Clouds, which was performed at the Bloomsbury last year.
So quite a lot of Greek tragedy (and comedy) going on, but lots of the same Greek tragedies. Lots of the same Greek tragedies that people think have bearing on modern times. So lots of Medea – an obvious feminist work to start with with apparently one that can be made more feminist each time – but very little Ion and the nature of obedience to the gods; plenty of condensed down Oresteia, discussing the nature of revenge and justice, very little of the ‘historical’ Seven Against Thebes.
To a certain extent, the problem is similar to that of deciding which Shakespeare play to perform: you can usually do well commercially with a Lear or a Hamlet, and there’s many an actor willing to take on the Bard in those plays; trying to find someone interested in either watching or starring in Pericles and Timon of Athens is a much harder job.
All the same, it’s been a while since we’ve had the always popular Oedipus Rex, the engaging and comedic Helen, the always-relevant The Trojan Women or even an Iphigenia, either at Aulis or Tauris. So come on theatres, give us a little variety, please!
Until then, feel free to enjoy the stunning Elektra (Ηλέκτρα), directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis (Zorba the Greek).