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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater


Ruth Hazel
Department of Classical Studies
The Open University

Unsuitable for Women and Children? Greek Tragedies in Modern British Theatres

My starting point is the paradox in modern performance of ancient Greek drama; that not only those who watch but also those who present, design and direct modern productions may be from the groups of people excluded from such participation in the original productions — women, young people, and people from a different culture from that of the rest of the audience.

During the last three decades in British theatre, the themes of Greek tragedy have been used by small-scale, specialist companies as well as by the large commercial theatres like the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is the work of such specialist companies, and particularly those involved in work with young people, that this paper will discuss. Because it is impossible to ignore the extent of the impact on the reception of Greek plays of the work of feminist or feminist-sympathetic theatre practitioners, the paper will also consider the ways such practitioners have informed the use made of Greek originals, and in particular, such plays as Antigone and Medea, as stimuli for social or moral discussion. It will be suggested that, just as Athenian dramatists allegorised and defused challenges to the polis from the potentially subversive 'other', so drama based on the Greek myths of Athenian tragedy can be used to channel or express elements in society that are are either untamed or inarticulate.

Thus, in surveying work across a spectrum of specialist companies — from those which conduct Theatre-In-Education workshops with primary children to those which target Greek-literate academic audiences — the paper will acknowledge the influences from another wide range of theatre companies, from the radical to the Establishment, which have investigated the potential of Greek tragedy to give a voice to the voiceless.

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