Performances in the 1980s
The Greek Play reached new heights during the 1980s, with three productions going on tour to the USA and Canada in the space of five years.
Greek Play performances of the 1980s (more information found below):
- Trojan Women (Euripides) 1980
- Wasps (Aristophanes) 1981
- Birds (Aristophanes) 1982
- Hercules Furens (Euripides) 1983
- Hippolytus (Euripides) 1984
- Thesmophoriazusae (Aristophanes) 1985
- Bacchae (Euripides) 1986
- Ajax (Sophocles) 1987
- Frogs (Aristophanes) 1988
- Electra (Sophocles) 1989
1980: Euripides - Trojan Women
We know very little about the Trojan Women of 1980. Coming as it did the year before the wildly successful production of Wasps, which enabled the first tour, it has been slightly overlooked.
Apparently, the production made great use of abstract lighting effects through gauze, and was extremely beautiful. This programme was also the first in which a list of previous plays was given, informing the audience of the long-standing tradition behind the production they were seeing.
1981: Aristophanes - Wasps
Seeing that Aristophanic comedy had played such a vital role in the previous years of the Greek play, it is appropriate that it was a production of the Wasps which became so successful that it warranted the first KCL Greek play tour of North America and Canada. The programme certainly shows the increasing sophistication of the Greek play: it is the first one to have black and white photos, and an advertisement in the back.
Featured: Wasps on Tour
The first KCL Greek play tour was an adventure for all involved; fund-raising ranged from professors appealing to the great and good of Classics, to undergraduates holding snooker tournaments. The touring company numbered 28, including three people for make-up, four musicians, several children and a very complicated set.
New Theatre, King’s College London: September 17 & 18
George Ignatieff, University of Toronto: September 24, 25, 26
Vassar: September 29
Rutgers: September 30
Horace Mann Theatre, Columbia University, New York: October 1, 2, 3
Bryn Mawr: October 5
Harvard: October 7
Wellesley: October 8
1982: Aristophanes - Birds
It seems that King’s College London Classical Society was on to a winning streak with the comedies of Aristophanes, and so continued it with the 1982 production of the Birds.
The director’s note in the programme expressed the hope that the production would have contemporary significance, whilst celebrating the established tradition of the Greek play.
1983: Euripides - Hercules Furens
Returning to the author of the first two plays produced by the Classical Society, Euripides, a more obscure and difficult play was chosen: Heracles, or Hercules Furens.
It had been performed in 1959, and bringing it to the stage in 1983 renewed the reputation of the King’s Greek play for succeeding with difficult choices of plays.
It was also successful enough to enable the second North American tour.
Featured: Euripides et al - Heracles tour
The touring production of Heracles was an amalgam of ideas and texts. The very title sums up the complexity of the production: ‘A new verse drama in ancient Greek and modern English…by Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes with arrangement English material and songs…’ Many reviews raved about it, some did not, but all agreed that it was fascinating, complex and an important production in terms of the incorporation of English in the plays, which had been an increasing element throughout the late 70s and early 80s.
New Theatre, King’s College London: September 15 & 16
Players Theatre, McGill University, Montreal: September 30 & October 1
Horace Mann Theatre, Columbia University, New York: October 6, 7, 8
Wheeler School Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island: October 11
Second Storey Theatre, Newport, Rhode Island: October 12
1984: Euripides - Hippolytus
Although the first production of Hippolytus was held in November 1953, it has been a common misconception that the play was performed in 1954 instead.
Therefore, this fourth production of Hippolytus in 1984 was to commemorate the play’s thirtieth birthday. This is actually accurate, as there was no play in 1979 or 1954, so 1984 was the year of the thirtieth play. The production was simple and classic, no doubt harking back to how it would have been performed in 1953.
1985: Aristophanes - Thesmophoriazusae
The third and last production to date of Thesmophoriazusae was in 1985 and it also went on tour that following autumn. It has perhaps proved a favourite at King’s because it is one of the easiest plays to put across to a modern audience: the cross dressing, battle of the sexes and general slapstick and hilarity ensures that is always a winner.
Nevertheless this production was ‘fairly scrupulous by King’s standards’ as one reviewer commented, there were no English sections and the Greek was tight.
Featured: Thesmophoriazusae tour
Thesmophoriazusae has proved a favourite at King’s as it is one of the easiest plays to put across to a modern audience: the cross dressing, battle of the sexes and general slapstick and hilarity ensures that is always a winner. The 1985 production toured Canada and the East Coast in the Autumn.
New Theatre, King’s College London September 13
St. Michael’s Theatre, Toronto September 19, 20, 21
Barn Theatre, Baltimore September 24
Goodhart Hall, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania September 26
Experimental Theatre, Yale, Connecticut September 28
Minor Latham Playhouse, Barnard College, New York October 1
Rites and Reason Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island October 3 & 4
1986: Euripides - Bacchae
The 1986 production of the Bacchae was unfortunately cancelled after two performances due to the under-prepared nature of the cast and the indisposition of the main actor, who was also the director. Many reports were written on this event by different members of the department, and for a short time the future of the play hung in the balance.
It was necessary to change the organisation of the play in order for it to survive. The role of the ‘Executive Producer’, a staff member who would oversee the production and ultimately have the final say on decisions, was instated, and it was no longer the Classical Society that presented the production, but the whole Department of Classics.
1987: Sophocles - Ajax
The disaster that was 1986 actually helped to preserve and strengthen the continuing tradition of the play.
The staff involvement was now officially cited and thanked, and the Greek play was now seen as an activity for and a credit to the whole Department. In 1987 the play chosen was Ajax, which in 1958 had been the fifth production.
With a relatively small cast but large production team (see cast list below, left) this was a simple and clean but dramatic interpretation, involving exceptionally high acting skills, helped by the fact that the student who played Tecmessa would soon after leaving King’s become a major TV and film actress.
1988: Aristophanes - Frogs
The Greek play’s future firmly re-established, it was time to return in 1988 to some well loved Aristophanes, the Frogs.
This was the first production that took place under the aegis of new London Festival of Greek Drama. The play was able to branch out and draw on professional resources to improve the quality of the production; the music was performed by Studio 6 Productions, and the make-up was done by the London College of Fashion.
Another performance was added to the run, so that there were six performances over four days. The production was a great success, and made enough money to go on the fourth and final tour to America, this time to both the East and West coasts:
Featured: Frogs on tour
This tour could arguably be said to have been the most successful, combining performances with lectures and workshops from the tour director and even performing at the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. As it states in the tour programme: ‘We aim at productions which are both an intellectual stimulus and an effective theatrical reality for a modern audience…’ This succinctly sums up the ideal universal appeal of Greek drama in the original, which the Greek play has always aimed to convey.
New Theatre, King’s College London: September 16
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island: September 22 & 23
Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut: September 26
Haverford College, Pennsylvania: September 28
University of California, Santa Cruz: October 1
University of Southern California, Los Angeles: October 4 – 8
Stanford University, California: October 10
University of California, Berkeley: October 11
1989: Euripides - Alcestis
In 1969 and 1970 the play left the Great Hall in the Strand Campus for the first time since 1955, and was performed in King George’s Hall on Great Russell Street. The play in 1969 was Alcestis, a mere eight years after its first performance, which is surprising considering the difficulties posed by the play. The programme explains it well by saying that: ‘The plot is a folk tale rather than a serious tragic myth.’