Saturday, July 21, 2012

Even the Furies cannot stop the show from going on!

Bacchus (Dionysus)
In the ancient city of Athens, Greece (circa 500 BCE) a festival would occur in which all the citizens both men and women would gather in celebration of Dionysus, the God of wine, theatre and ecstasy.  Throughout the duration of the festival a few smaller activities would occur - animal sacrifices, singing, dancing - however, the most central and fundamentally highlighted activity (in accordance with the present day emphasis of what has been remembered) would be the theatrical performances both dramatic (tragical) and (later) comedic. Three playwrights would compete for the honor of the best tragedy with each contestant submitting three tragedies and one satyr play to be performed over the course of three days (one day for each of the playwrights) after which a winner would be crowned.

Only a few of the plays of an ancient Greek playwright that took part in these contests has survived throughout time – the Oresteia trilogy, which tells of tale of the curse of the house of Atreus by Aeschylus being one of them. His satyr play has, unfortunately, been lost to the ravages of time.  In the modern day capital of Great Britain, Director and actor Phil Willmott  (in association with the Scoop at More London - Steam Industry Free Theatre) has adapted Aeschylus’s three part Oresteia for the Summer 2012 season and, alongside a group of passionate performers, has brought forth the story for the entertainment of the masses along the South Bank of the River Thames.  

Theatre of Dionysus - Athens
The Scoop Theatre itself is modeled in part on the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Greece located on the slope of the Acropolis. Both theatres are open aired amphitheaters’ capable of holding large audiences on concrete seating with a central playing area in which the actors perform. - the only contrasts between the two theatres being the Dionysian audience only surrounding the performers on three sides while in the Scoop Theatre the audience encompasses the entire performance area.

The way in which the modern day venue has been constructed serves to create a greater connection between the performers and the audience as opposed to the audience connection in a more traditional indoor proscenium theatre. In this outdoor amphitheater, the actors spread throughout the entire space of the venue, wondering in and out through the stairways of the seating area, interacting with the audience and immersing themselves in the same physical environment whereas at an indoor theatre the actors would remain only upon the stage and would consistently maintain the concept of the fourth wall (wherein the actors pretend that the audience is not even there) never creating any rapport with the spectators. What makes the performers of the Oresteia trilogy especially appealing is the continued custom to interact and involve the children members of the audience within the storyline, such as asking for their assistance in performing feats. In one instance, the characters’ get the assistance of a young girl in the audience to be the mighty Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, in order to arm wrestle King Agamemnon for the rights of women voyagers being allowed to journey with the men on their way to the city of Troy to rescue Helen. 
The Scoop Theatre- London

The outdoor environment in which the Scoop theatre has been placed also plays an important part in the outcome of the performance. In the city of London wherein the weather has the tendency to shift extremes at a moment’s notice, the possibility of the show being cancelled due to rain is a very likely predicament that must be faced both by the performers and the audience. But the stage managers assure that the show will go on for as long as possible as long as it is safe to do so.

Bertolt Brecht’s idea of epic theatre also pervades throughout the performance in this outdoor environment wherein “one of the goals (. . .) is for the audience to always be aware that it is watching a play”.  With the constant changes in the weather, this awareness always remains. It also remains as due to the venue being outdoor and placed along the bank of the Thames, members of the general public are always walking by along the edges of the theatre, stopping and watching the performance as it goes on. The continued ambulations of the public can get a little distracting from the show, pulling the audience out and serving as to the reason why the audience is always reminded that they are watching a play. This reason is, however, only one of the (very few) deterrents towards this chosen location of theatre going.
Orestes being chased by the Furies.

All in all, the Oresteia trilogy performed by the Scoop Theatre in London is a very enjoyable source of entertainment. The Director, Phil Willmott incorporates several aspects of the Greek mythological tales to tell the audience about the Trojan War as well as the Curse of the House of Atreus. For those that know these Greek tales, it is a rather appreciated effort on his part for having remained true to the myths and for incorporating as much as he possibly could in a limited amount of time.    

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