Friday, July 02, 2010

Telling instead of Showing:The Phoenician Women at Theatro Technis

In fifth-century Greece, two brothers prepare to fight for sovereignty over 'Seven-gated Thebes'.Polynices has been brought an army from Argos, where he's lived for years in exile. He challenges Eteocles, who became ruler after their father Oedipus went mad and blinded himself. Having agreed at the time that they would take turns to reign for alternating years, Eteocles has reneged. Now Polynices threatens to destroy his native city unless Eteocles will back down. Their mother Jocasta enlists the help of Antigone, their beautiful sister, to make them see sense and not destroy Thebes.

The play was written by Euripides. It was a reminder of how Greek Tragedy achieved its so-called 'cathartic' effect,i.e. put the audience through the wringer, by imposing strict rules or 'unities' on the form of the play. The action must happen within 24 hours, which sets a pace as demanding as any modern thriller. Unity of theme demands the story concern an individual or small group, here the royal house of Thebes, concerned with one big issue,in this case patriotism.

The main strength, though, derives from the rule about unity of place, or having to stick to one location.

To describe a modern play as 'wordy' is to be critical, but it's the main component of Greek tragedy. Jocasta can plead with her sons within the palace grounds, but she has to fill in the backstory in a monologue, but the battle and its aftermath must be reported. It's a strangely hypnotic and compelling method that that requires a strong script and good actors. Fortunately this production had both - and all within a friendly fringe venue three minutes walk from Morning Crescent tube station.

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