Monday, August 29, 2011

The Summer of The Greeks at The Space

Just when you think you'll never see a Greek Tragedy again, two come along together.

Last week, I was thrilled at chance to revisit The Space, the arts centre on the Isle of Dogs, where the aptly-titled Lazarus Theatre Company (they specialise in revivals) is currently staging two adaptations of Greek plays: Electra and Orestes, billed as The Summer of The Greeks

As a rule I like small-scale domestic works , but there's something compelling about Greek drama, with its focus on stupendous events and legendary characters in extreme situations. The chorus and lead players give off waves of intense emotion so strong you feel quite battered by the experience.

They're meant to be staged outdoors, in vast open-air ampitheatres suited to epic themes of human pride and divine retribution.

The nearest I came to the theatrical experience they aimed for was watching Antigone at Holland Park. However, I recall once wandering around an authentic Greek theatre in a cliff-top location in Taormina, Sicily. I sat high among a myriad of stone steps curved around a three-sided arena, looking down on the stage below. I was trying to imagine what it must have been like be in the audience for one of the great epics, such as Oedipus Rex, with a gods' eye-view of human follies.

My first visit to The Space a few weeks back was to see Tartuffe, when the French comedy classic had been given a rambunctious treatment, with actors chasing around in period costumes between irregular rows of seats. Even a small-scale domestic drama seemed to burst the boundaries, so I wondered how a pair of epic tragedies would fare.

The adaptations had been trimmed to suit the small-scale ambience, but the theatre was amazingly versatile, too. The interior had taken on a dignity to suit the occasion; all straight lines and well-ordered rows, reminiscent of its origins as a Presbyterian church.

On the previous occasion there hadn't been time to visit the 'Hubbub' cafe, comprising an upstairs bar and bench-and-table combinations under the trees to one side of the theatre. A lively crowd of young actors stood about- the whole 30-strong company had turned out for the press-night showing of both plays as a double bill. In the interval, under cover of studying the programme notes I listened to them talking about rehearsal mishaps. It was a nice contrast to the soul-stirring drama onstage.

My review of the play is on the Remotegoat website.

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