We are still en­thralled by the great tragedies of the clas­si­cal stage

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

AS an as­sem­bly of Scot­tish theatre-mak­ers, it was not in any way un­prece­dented – the an­nual Crit­ics Awards for Theatre in Scot­land (CATS) at­tracts a much grander, and bet­ter turned out, gath­er­ing of prac­ti­tion­ers of all dis­ci­plines as­so­ci­ated with the stage – but it was im­pres­sive nonethe­less. Co­in­ci­den­tally, the CATS car­a­vanserai pitches up at the same venue this year, on June 12, so this con­tention will ac­tu­ally be tested.

At the Royal Lyceum theatre this week, play­wright David Greig un­veiled his first pro­gramme as artis­tic di­rec­tor, suc­ceed­ing Mark Thom­son. Sup­port­ing him were a large num­ber of the writ­ers, di­rec­tors and per­form­ers who will fea­ture in that sea­son, which is pro­grammed all the way through to June 2017 and in­cludes Daniela Nar­dini in an April De An­ge­lis play, a Christ­mas Alice in Won­der­land di­rected by An­thony Neil­son and an adap­ta­tion of Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock from Australia.

It is a slate of work that is, unar­guably, a bold un­der­tak­ing, par­tic­u­larly for a theatre work­ing on re­duced fund­ing, and richly de­served the sort of un­veil­ing more usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the big­ger bud­get of an an­nual fes­ti­val or na­tional per­form­ing com­pany.

Greig was at his elo­quent best, of course, and his en­cap­su­la­tion of the im­por­tance of theatre be­ing as a live fo­rum of ideas where peo­ple meet in the flesh as dis­tinct from via all the many forms of time-drain­ing on­line in­ter­ac­tion was no less true for be­ing ad­dressed to an au­di­ence com­posed en­tirely of the con­verted.

It is in­ter­est­ing that we in Scot­land seem par­tic­u­larly aware of the long his­tory of that trans­ac­tion at this mo­ment, and a clever chap – like David Greig, per­haps – could prob­a­bly draw mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions with our polling this week, and the fact that no­tions of na­tion­hood, sovereignty and be­long­ing are at the top of the po­lit­i­cal agenda far from Ed­in­burgh.

But let us be con­tent for the mo­ment sim­ply to ob­serve that the pho­to­call for the Lyceum’s an­nounce­ment took place on Karen Ten­nent’s grand set for Chris Han­nan’s new ver­sion of Homer’s Iliad, which is Mark Thom­son’s fi­nal show at the theatre, and run­ning for an­other week.

While Ron Donachie is por­tray­ing Agamem­non in Ed­in­burgh, at the other end of the An­to­nine Wall Ge­orge An­ton is the same king in This Rest­less House, a con­tem­po­rary re­work­ing of Aeschy­lus’s Greek tragedy The Oresteia by Zin­nie Har­ris. Re­mark­ably her ver­sion of the clas­si­cal tril­ogy fol­lows no fewer than three dif­fer­ent stag­ings on the English stage last year, at Shake­speare’s Globe, the Almeida in Is­ling­ton and HOME in Manch­ester. Thirty five years ago a ver­sion of The Oresteia by poet Tony Har­ri­son at the Na­tional Theatre on the South Bank was such a rare event that I ap­plied for a job on a Lon­don lo­cal pa­per which I had no real in­ter­est in to have my travel costs cov­ered to be able to see it.

In Oc­to­ber, Greig re­vealed, he him­self is get­ting in on this pop­u­lar trend in clas­si­cal drama with a ver­sion of Aeschy­lus’s ear­lier, and much less com­plete, play, The Sup­pli­ant Women. For this pro­duc­tion he is re­united with the team be­hind his con­tro­ver­sial, ac­claimed, and very con­tem­po­rary, pro­duc­tion, The Events – di­rec­tor Ramin Gray and com­poser John Browne. If that play aimed for a time­less re­sponse to a hor­rific news story, for his first work as artis­tic di­rec­tor of his own build­ing, Greig has cho­sen to stage a work 2500 years old that tells a story of Mid­dle Eastern refugees seek­ing sanc­tu­ary that has ob­vi­ous par­al­lels in the bul­letins of 2016. The en­thu­si­as­tic theatre-lover I still am can hardly wait.

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