By Fenn Smith
If I were to sum up the day in just a few words, I would simply say that I cannot. Whilst I study Classical Civilisation studies as an A Level, it didn’t exactly prepare me for what I experienced in Cambridge at The Arts Centre.
Having recently studied a Greek comedy at AS Level and a tragedy at A2, our Classics group, comprising of just three of us thought we understood Greek theatre and the playwright’s intentions for the way these plays should be performed. However, having read Medea by Euripides and Women at the Thesmophoria by Aristophanes, we realise now that we did not originally fully understand the techniques used by the playwrights for particular effects. A slightly interesting feature in these plays was the fact that they were not spoken in English, but in Ancient Greek, with surtitles showing the audience what the actors were saying.
The first play we saw was called Prometheus, therefore based on the ancient Greek myth. In this myth, Prometheus, god of forethought, takes fire from the gods at Olympus and gives it to humans. According to Zeus, King of the Gods, this is an enormous catastrophe as now that mortals have fire they are one step closer to being equal with the gods. The punishment for this is that Prometheus must be chained high on a cliff face, having his liver pecked out each day by a vulture and re-growing it by night. The Cambridge Theatre Group’s adaptation of this was very interesting, mostly due to the fact that they literally chained the actor playing Prometheus to a ladder attached to some scaffolding, high above the audience. Whilst on the subject of the actor playing Prometheus, he had the most amazing singing voice, which he frequently used when contradicting or speaking with the Chorus, an important part of the Greek theatre as they maintain the link between the actors and the audience to make sure everyone is keeping up.
The use of colour in Prometheus was also a prominent feature, mostly displayed in the characters’ costumes. For example, Oceanus was shown dressed in blues, greens and white, showing his role of God of the Ocean quite clearly.
His daughters, the Oceanids, who made up the Chorus, were also in blue, floaty dresses with glitter on their faces, to emphasis their goddess rank and the mystical nature of their being.
We went into this performance completely unaware of what we were in for, without counting the fact that we knew of the legend. All of us were astounded at what we saw, the creativity of the producers and directors of the play and the interesting way in which they adapted this ancient play to relate to modern life. And yet, there was something about the play that baffled us. We went into the interval questioning what actually happened and we discussed how depressed that a tragedy can make a person feel in the space of an hour. The main question that sprang to mind was, “What just happened?” as the three of us turned to Mrs Jones for help.
The second production, The Frogs, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. As it started and the lights went down, we were still feeling pretty depressed after Prometheus. But right from the word go, The Frogs was not a disappointment. As a comedy, it certainly did its job in cheering up the audience a trifle, with slapstick humour alongside the visual effect of colour and general oddities. Something in particular that captivated us was the fact that the Chorus was made up of frogs (not something you see in your everyday play!).
The song that they sang, pronounced as something along like the lines of, “brekekekek koax koax”, was stuck in our head for days on end, driving not only all of us insane, but Mrs Jones too!
The use of slapstick comedy in Frogs was extremely bawdy and eccentric, and in occasional cases quite crude, however this made it no less entertaining! The experience of seeing a play written in an ancient time period that can have a contemporary adaptation, so relative to modern life was extremely impressive and fascinating for the entire audience. I can quite confidently say that it was a memorable experience with relative information that can be transferred to our current studies. I’d happily go again!