World Classics in Theatre: Shadows of Troy

18th February 2020

How do you introduce young people to the world of Ancient and Classical Greece and the play? The world of myth? The origin of drama? The origin of family dysfunction – which is the origin of drama?!

Well, going to a student production at the Playhouse Theatre in Oxford might be a good starting point. After all, the University of Oxford is pretty wonderful at dealing with classical matters. And what better week to do it than the one in which the amazing classicist Dr Donald Russell of St John’s College died at the age of 99 with all his faculties working at full power? (He’d been giving tutorials until he was 96.)

So, on offer was Shadows of Troy, presented by Stupid & Brave Productions and performed by the University of Oxford Student Company. They gave us two acts: a new adaptation of Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides and Ajax by Sophocles, though it must be said that there was no trace of Ajax in the second act – and not much trace of Sophocles.

However, the first act – Iphigenia – gave us an interesting introduction to the Chorus, which it’s essential for student theatre-goers to know. They told us the story and acted out scenes and commented and made us ask questions. The protagonists –Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Menelaus, Iphigenia, Achilles, etc. – gave us the agonizing arguments for and against sacrificing an innocent girl, and in Ajax we learned that the whole Trojan War was built on a lie.

The levels of damage it caused must have made our Cherwell House students think very hard about the agonies of the present and recent past. They now have a sense of the origins of our culture – and the dangers of accepting the wrong kind of equine gift.

 

Simon Howard.

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