Sunday, 3 November 2013

Tynan's Hit List and the Greeks and the Romans



Despite my Oedipal struggle with KPT (the P stands for Peacock, a name that probably inspired his undergraduate fashion choices), I am sad that he was pretty much written out of the National Theatre's history. I have a book on the NT, and he gets the same number of words as an anecdote about Larry Olivier's dad. In the current anniversary celebrations, no-one has written an article about his contribution, although they have done a few about the guy who worked on the stage door in 1983.

One thing Tynan did complete for the NT (unlike his books about each production, or the magazine he promised), was a big list of plays. The full thing is online. I have an hour left of internet access, and a full cup of Tramway filter. Let's see how many I can adorn with bilious remarks.



Aeschylus
Suppliants Persians
Seven Against Thebes Prometheus Bound
Oresteia*
The star indicates a show that has been produced by the National Theatre. The hit rate is not high, even allowing that doing all of them would probably have meant no new plays at all until about 2130.
Of course, he is bang on about Oresteia: apart from being the defining myth of patriarchy, it's the moment when Greek theatre revealed its potential as a social forum for big ideas. Sadly, the big idea was that it was okay to kill your mum. 
The other choices have the same problem: Aeschylus' language is archaic, even for ancient Greek. Translations have the choice of abusing the original poetic style to get at the meaning, or becoming a barely comprehensible series of polemical speeches. Persians, however, probably has some uncomfortable orientalism in its depiction of 'the barbarians,' and the Daily Mail could defend it as a memorial to the splendour of western civilisation.
Aristophanes
Acharnians Knights Clouds
Wasps Peace Birds*
Lysistrata Frogs* Thesmophoriazusae
Ecclesiazusae Plutus

Going with the funny man was obviously a better choice for Tynan and the NT: and both Birds and Frogs are braw, intelligent comedies (the latter being a belter for poor classics students who desperately need a laugh after the Aeschylus that they have had to translate for unseen examinations). Whether the arrival of a naked woman at the end of Plutus influenced Tynan to include it is open for debate: but the sexual revolutionary would have loved Lysistrata for mashing up sex and social issues: an erotic politician, indeed.

Euripides
Alcestis Medea Hippolytus
Hecuba Andromache Hercules Furens
Ion Trojan Women* Iphigenia in Taurus
Electra Helen Orestes
Ighigenia in Aulis* 
Cyclops Bacchae*


 In a way, these choices are safe - all the Greek ones are. A good director can cope with the problems posed by reviving a script after 2500 years. That said, Helen is pretty trivial and Tynan did misuse Trojan Women as a defense for Soldiers. I'll get to that later...
Apart from Medea  and Hippolytus, though, none of these have proved themselves especially adaptable to contemporary sensibilities. The Electra and Orestes  riff heavily on the Aeschylan Oresteia, suggesting that they are better staged after Aeschylus' magnum opus has had its way. 
The National Theatre did make a big deal of Oresteia when they did it: my parents forced me to watch the whole thing on TV, including some dull documentaries between each performance about 'the making of...' As I remember, it was very 'authentic': all masks and music that sounded like it was either thousands of years old or part of the Sonica Festival.
Cyclops  is a satire play, I think. No-one in their right mind is going to revive that, except out of historical curiosity. It looks as if Tynan has confused 'the national theatre of the British nation' with 'the antiquarian theatre club of Oxbridge university.'
Sophocles
Antigone* Electra Oedipus Rex*
Women of Trachis Philoctetes* Oedipus at Colonus*
Yes, yes, yes. To be honest, the Big List is looking more like something an undergraduate might have compiled, and I'd be more interested if he had left a few of the major ones out - there's nothing here that any half-way intelligent eighteen year old would miss off their list of The Bestest Plays Ever. 
I am just sore because he is giving me nothing to moan about.
Roman
Plautus
Miles Gloriosus Menaechmi Pseudolus
Bacchides Trinummus Amphitruo
Captivi Aulularia Truculentus
Seneca
Hercules Furens Medea Phaedra
Oedipus* Thyestes Troades
Agamemnon
Terence
Eunuchus Andria Adelphi
Hecyra Phormio

The inclusion of so many Roman plays makes me wonder whether he was too many: he is just mentioning as many plays as he can find. While there are arguments about whether Seneca added anything to the plays he adapted from the Greek (mostly extra descriptions of body parts getting abused), I would be hard pushed to believe that any more than one of his plays is necessary... and I only like Plautus if Frankie Howerd is starring. 

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