Plays

Seven Against Thebes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the wake of Oedipus's exile, the cursed sons of his incestuous marriage, Eteocles and Polynices vow to avoid further bloodshed by ruling Thebes in alternate years. However, when the Eteocles refuses to step down after the first year of the arrangement, Polynices raises an army led by seven Argive champions to retake Thebes by force.

Fearing the invaders, and feeling the fear of his people, Eteocles vows to fight Polynices man to man for the future of the city. Instead, they kill one another in battle beneath the seventh gate of the city, leading directly to the dilemma of their sister, Antigone, and her ultimate demise.

Seven Against Thebes, which forms part of Aeschylus's tragic Theban cycle, is brilliantly translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Translator's copyright © by Volatic Limited and Kenneth McLeish 1991

Sodom

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Funny, powerful and transgressive, Sodom refigures the classic biblical tale of Lot, using it to examine the dangers of being different in a rigid world. Claire Dowie reveals that, in fact, everyone in Sodom, apart from Lot and his wife, is gay.

Dowie then translates the morality of the biblical story to examine the persecution of a distrusted commune in the modern day.

Sodom shows that society’s fear of the Other translates across the millennia.

Suppliants (Aeschylus)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Suppliants tells the story of the Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus, who seemed destined for a dynastic marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Danaus's brother Aegyptus. However, when warned by the gods that his brother plans to murder him and his daughters, Danaus flees with the Danaids to Argos, where he is taken in by the King of Argos.

Aegyptus challenges the people of Argos to give up their refugees, but the King and his people refuse, allowing the Danaids sanctuary.

Possibly part of a tetralogy based on the myth of the Danaids, Suppliants is translated and introduced by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.

Suppliants (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The haunting spectre of unburied corpses begins the action of Euripides' Suppliants. Aithra, mother of the king of Athens, Theseus, pleads with her son to exhort Thebes to release the bodies of the sons of Athens killed in Thebes, hired by Polyneikes to fight in the post-Oedipal era of Theban civil war. Theseus agrees to the request, but only after ascertaining that it is the democratic will of the people of Athens that he should make this plea to the Thebans.

The Thebans, for their part, refuse, mocking Athenian democratic principles along the way. A battle between the two cities erupts; this time, however, Theseus fights only to gain that which his mandate had sought: the return of the bodies for their holy rites.

In the play, as J. Michael Walton writes, 'the level of the debate quickly rises to a dual consideration of the anture of war and the relative values of differing poltical systems. This is not Theseus' squabble, as he is quick to point out. He is soon persuaded that it is his buisiness. The rights and wrongs of interferences into the behaviour of other countries on moral grounds is a debate which has proved open-ended. All the deliberations of the United Nations Security Council have resulted only in guidelines to which every example seems to offer special pleading.'

Suppliants forms the last episode in the saga of the house of Oedipus.

The Suppliant Women  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Fifty women board a boat in North Africa. They flee across the Mediterranean, leaving everything behind. They are escaping forced marriage in their home and seeking asylum in Greece.

Written 2,500 years ago, The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays. It’s about the plight of refugees, about moral and human rights, civil war, democracy and ultimately the triumph of love. It tells a story that echoes down the ages to find striking and poignant resonance today.

Featuring in performance a chorus of local women, this is part play, part ritual, part theatrical archaeology. It explores fundamental questions of humanity: who are we, where do we belong and, if all goes wrong, who will take us in?

Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women, in a version by David Greig, premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in October 2016, in a production by ATC.

video Theban Plays: Antigone (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

The story of one sister’s loyalty to both her brothers, regardless of their acts or opposing political beliefs, Antigone is one of the most consistently popular plays in the history of drama. This translation, by Don Taylor, was commissioned by the BBC, and was first broadcast in autumn, 1986.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor; Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis (on classical matters).

Cast: Patrick Barr: Theban Elder (Chorus), Rosalie: Crutchley Euridice: Paul Daneman: Theban Elder (Chorus), Donald Eccles: Theban Elder (Chorus), Robert Eddison: Theban Elder (Chorus) John Gielgud: Teiresias, Patrick Godfrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Mike Gwilym: Haemon, Bernard Hill: Messenger, Ewan Hooper: Theban Elder (Chorus), Peter Jeffrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Noel Johnson: Theban Elder (Chorus). Robert Lang: Theban Elder (Chorus), John Ringham: Theban Elder (Chorus), Paul Russell: Boy, Tony Selby: Soldier, John Shrapnel: Creon, Juliet Stevenson: Antigone, Gwen Taylor: Ismene, Frederick Treves: Theban Elder (Chorus).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Theban Plays: Oedipus At Colonus (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Sophocles' Theban plays – Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus at Colonos and Antigone – stand at the fountainhead of world drama; they tell the story of Oedipus, Jocasta and Antigone, and the ancient Greek theme of power, both mortal and godlike is brought to the fore with stunning vitality. Oedipus at Colonos is the middle play in the trilogy. In the aftermath of the events in Thebes, the blinded Oedipus is led to Colonos by his daughter Antigone and his tragic fate is completed.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks. Starring: Michael Pennington, John Gielgud, Cyril Cusack, Claire Bloom, Anthony Quayle.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Theban Plays: Oedipus The King (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

This Greek tragedy tells the story of Oedipus, King of Thebes and husband of Jocasta. When the discovery is made that he is the son of the same Jocasta and of the previous king Laius (whom he has unwittingly murdered), Oedipus blinds himself and Jocasta commits suicide.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor, Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis.

Cast: Claire Bloom: Jocasta, Michael Byrne: Theban Senator, Ernest Clark: Theban Senator, David Collings, Theban Senator, Cyril Cusack: Priest, Donald Eccles: Theban Senator, Robert Eddison: Theban Senator, John Gielgud: Teiresias, Edward Hardwicke: Theban Senator, Denys Hawthorne: Theban Senator, Kelly Huntley: Ismene, Noel Johnson: Theban Senator, Gerard Murphy: Messenger, Michael Pennington: Oedipus, Norman Rodway: Corinthian Messenger, Clifford Rose: Theban Senator, Alan Rowe: Theban Senator, Lincoln Saunders: Teiresias’ Boy, Cassie Shilling: Antigone, John Shrapnel: Creon, Nigel Stock: Theban Senator, David Waller: Shepherd, John Woodnutt: Theban Senator

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

Women in Power

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Women in Power tells the story of a group of women, tired (just like their author) of the incompetent politicians in the demos. Convinced they could do a much better job than their male counterparts, they inveigle themselves into the council and, with their leader Praxagora at the helm, succeed in signing over working powers from the men to the women, powers they use to institute a proto-socialist state.

A suitable companion piece to the slightly lest chaste Lysistrata, Women in Power is as cynical about the status quo as it is romantic about the possibility for change. This translation is by the eminently talented Kenneth McLeish.

Greek Drama: The theatre of ancient Greece, the fountainhead of the entire Western dramatic tradition. The earliest Greek drama is thought to have developed during the 6th century BC from imitative religious magic associated with the worship of Dionysus. The golden age of Athenian Drama (the 5th and 4th centuries BC) saw the emergence of the genres of Tragedy and Comedy and the production of the great works of Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BC), Sophocles (c. 496–406 BC), and Euripides (c. 484–406 BC). Aristophanes (c. 448–385 BC) was the greatest comic playwright. The most important development of the later 4th century was the emergence of the New Comedy of Menander. Although the Athenian tradition was in serious decline by about 300 BC, its influence had already spread to other parts of the Mediterranean world.

The first Greek plays were performed in a circular dancing area known as an orchestra. Later a raised stage was added behind this area while a tent (Skene) behind the stage functioned as both a stage set and a dressing room. Scenery became more elaborate and such devices as the ekkyklema and the mechane for the Deus Ex Machina were added during the 5th century.

The influence of Greek theatre persists in the manifold translations, adaptations, and updatings that have appeared since the Renaissance. It also appears in numerous major and minor conventions of the Western stage; the issuing of a ticket (metal token) for each seat, and the habit of applauding to denote approval, and whistling to express disapproval were all originally Greek customs.

Roman Drama: The theatre flourished in ancient Rome for about 800 years, during both the Republic and the Empire. It developed from village entertainments such as the Atellana, and from Greek Drama.

The earliest Roman drama probably evolved from jolly carnivals and bawdy fertility rites performed on religious occasions. Its development was influenced greatly by the traditions of Greek colonists living in southern Italy and Sicily. The first documented Roman playwright was Lucius Livius Andronicus (c. 280–204 BC), a freed Greek slave who translated Greek works into Latin. The first recorded production took place in 240 BC at the Roman Games (Ludi Romani). Unlike their Greek predecessors Roman playwrights, such as Ennius, Naevius, and Andronicus wrote and published non-dramatic poetry.

Few Roman tragedies survive; most of the plays seem to have been adaptations of Greek originals, although Lucius Accius is thought to have written some original works. The role of the Chorus diminished, until it functioned as little more than a source of interlude music during scene changes. At the same time rhetoric grew increasingly important, with plays containing long set speeches. It is not even certain that the nine gory tragedies of Seneca were written to be performed on stage.

Roman comedy derived from the Greek New Comedy, with such authors as Plautus and Terence basing many of their works directly on plays by Menander and others. Although the plays were often set in Greece they tended to satirize Roman society and featured stereotypical Roman characters. Bawdy and brutal mime and the performances of the pantomimus eventually superseded literary comedy.

Roman drama was generally performed on festival days, together with gladiatorial contests, circuses, and races; popular actors could be very highly paid, one of the most successful being Roscius. Theatre buildings were originally wooden, and took their design from Greek theatres. The first stone theatre was built in Rome in 55 BC. Roman theatres became considerably more elaborate than the original Greek models; they were built to be freestanding, and had complex arrangements of curtains and scenery. There were even some indoor theatres. The amphitheatres designed as arenas for races were also used for theatrical shows. Performances were sometimes given in private; players could be hired to entertain dinner guests, while members of the literary elite would hold prestigious private readings of their works.

Roman drama disappeared in the 6th century AD when Christian opposition to acting resulted in the emperor Justinian closing down all the theatres.

Jonathan Law, ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).