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