Hippolytus: A director’s retrospective

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In the end Hippolytus, the Oriel Greek Play, was about beginnings – the first ever Oriel Greek Play,

the first play in the 2015/6 academic year, the first play in the newly reconstructed Third Quad in

Oriel – and my first dramatic venture in Oxford.

Why the play? In honesty, Hippolytus came about primarily out of three objectives: from a very

private standpoint, to explore from a different angle my favourite play by interpreting it for the stage;

on a broader scale, to marry Oriel’s rich traditions in Classics and in drama; and above all, to bring a

new approach to the performance of Greek tragedy and so make it – and Classics generally –

accessible to a wider audience. I had been dissatisfied by various recent interpretations of Greek

tragedy – they had seemed more an exercise in scholastic vanity than anything else, thus obscuring

what I understand to be the real function of Greek tragedy: that is, it should be emotive, it should

move – it might even be cathartic. This, then, was my aim: to convey the expressive and emotive

power of Greek tragedy, using Euripides’ Hippolytus as a seminal text in the Classical corpus and in

the history of Western literature and theatre.

In that vein my first thought was for the music – if anything compares to the emotive power of

words, it is music – and, for me, it is Romantic music especially. So John Young, our composer, created

an original Romantic score for us. ‘More like Profokiev’, he warned me, when he sent the

introduction to me in the summer, ‘than Schubert, with a bit of John Young’. It was everything I had

wanted. The concept was that when the music came on for the choral odes, the chorus would

become possessed, otherworldly, unnatural – as they are in the play – but when the music was off,

they, and the rest of the actors, were natural, they were human, they followed the cues written in the

lines and focused on the meaning of the Greek. We kept it simple – this held true for the production

design as well, as we went with a modern minimalist theme, working mainly with colour in order to

help convey meaning.

Being the director and producer, I was responsible both for the aesthetic vision for the play as well

as its realization – and putting on a play in college is, as I have discovered over the past six months,

not an easy process, as a college is not naturally a dramatic venue. A lot of logistical details had to be

cleared, a lot of college officials consulted – not to mention the JCR and MCR – but throughout

everyone was incredibly supportive of the project, with college contributing quite substantially to my

production company Paideia Productions in order to get the play underway.

In two short weeks before the start of term, we came together in Oxford to rehearse intensively for

our first week opening night. I was warned beforehand that I was crazy to think we could put on an

ancient Greek tragedy in essentially two weeks. Yet due to the incredible effort – not to mention

talent – of the cast, musicians, and crew, we managed to do it, selling out all three nights of our run.

For my part, working on Hippolytus, the Oriel Greek Play, was an unforgettable experience that gave

me some Some of the best three weeks of my life – crazy, certainly, but wonderful. I just may do it

again.

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