Preview: Philoctetes

first_img★★★☆☆Three StarsAh, Greek tragedy, that epitome of literary and theatrical tradition…and hard to pull off without just a hint of pretentiousness or a radical re-writing (ahem, “adaptation”) of the script. But to be fair to them, the Corpus Christi Owlets, directed by Natalie York, who already has a glittering career of London experience behind her, have had a fair stab at keeping on the straight and narrow with their shortened, modernised version of Sophocles’ play. With a good smattering of thees and thous to keep the ancient original in mind, the script has been lopped and chopped down to a short and sweet forty minutes. No interval ice-creams to look forward to then, but from the brief clip I saw of the play you hardly need them; well-polished dialogue and physically graphic fight scenes (poor Philoctetes, played by Moritz Borrhmann, looked genuinely pained) keep us engaged and interested pretty successfully.The story goes that Philoctetes, with his infamous “festering wound” is left abandoned on an island by his army. Ten years down the line, said army realise that for all their reluctance to do the Florence-Nightingale-caring thing, Philoctetes is actually rather necessary for their chances of victory. Except, and this is the clever part ladies and gentlemen, no longer is Philoctetes the owner of an out-dated “magical bow”. We’re in World War One, and the abandoned hero is a scientist with great plans for a revolutionary tank, plans which are carried around the stage rather wonderfully in what I am assured is a genuine early twentieth-century postal bag, complete with a water-proof covering of goat hair.In one magical wave of the “adaptation” wand, the vast cast of Sophocles’ play are vanished away, so that we are left with a much more manageable three characters; more psychologically claustrophobic and less constrained by the demands of classical tragedy. “It’s the play Sophocles wanted to write,” the director tells me. I’m not utterly convinced by this insight into the tragedian’s mind, but it’s certainly true that the changes work well in the given space and context.And what luck with the given space and the context! In the original, Philoctetes whiles away his lonely decade in a double-entrance cave. By happy coincidence, the stage in the auditorium of Corpus is backed by two stone alcoves in the wall which make the perfect place for a lamed and bitter tragic hero to lie, Caliban-like, as the growingly sympathetic Neoptolemus (Redmond Traynor) approaches to wheedle him out. I am reminded again of animals as Neoptolemus and the older and craftier Ulysses (Joe Rolleston) square-up to one another like bristling bull-dogs in an attempt to establish their power-ridden relationship.It’s not without a certain amount of risk that the company have taken on this little-known play, and not without a certain amount of courage that they’ve made the (predominately successful) changes that they have. Overall I’d recommend you go along in 6th Week to take a look. And ten points for the first person to spot the goat hair.last_img

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