Eumenides at the Oxford Playhouse

Ἀθηνᾶ
ἀνὴρ ὅδ᾽ ἐκπέφευγεν αἵματος δίκην:
ἴσον γάρ ἐστι τἀρίθμημα τῶν πάλων.

Athena
This man is acquitted from the charge of murder.
The number of votes cast are equal.

I have just seen a live performance of the Eumenides at the Oxford playhouse performed in Ancient Greek. This is a student production but done to professional standards.

Generally it was an excellent production and very atmospheric. To see a live production of a Greek play is a great experience and can give a clearer view of the play. So although it is obvious that the point where Orestes is acquitted from the charge of murder is the dramatic highlight of the play, it doesn’t become obvious until you see it live.

There were some weak points. The main one was that the chorus should have consisted of repulsive old hags. Instead, being a student production, it consisted of attractive young girls. In fact the Delphic priestess who opens the play was more scary than the Furies she was supposed to be scared by which confused my wife who didn’t know the play.

The Greek was more intelligible in some actor’s mouths than others. This didn’t really matter as an English translation was projected onto a screen. This was a translation done just for the play. Although a fairly free translation, I think an even looser translation would have been preferable. Aeschylus even in translation is difficult to understand if you are not familiar with the play.

One good thing is that there was live music – a small band of violins and percussion. This tended to be discordant to deflect the discordance of the Furies. The choruses were sometimes spoken, sometimes sung and sometimes whispered.I am not sure that the whispering always worked but the singing was vey effective, some of it in the style of Greek Orthodox chants.

I now have to wait another three years for the next production at Oxford.

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