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Oxford students Greek tragedy as reality TV

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Orestes: Oxford University Classical Drama Society in front rooms everywhere, on Wednesday 28 April, reviewed by Jon Lewis.

OVER the past 130 years, every three years Oxford students have performed a play in Ancient Greek, a tradition that has been maintained by performing Euripides’ Orestes as a filmed online drama broadcast on YouTube and recorded using Zoom.

Adapted and directed by Alison Middleton and Marcus Bell, the production is a spectacular freewheeling adventure framed as a fusion between a glitzy, gossipy reality television series and a news broadcast on the wittily-named Apollovision channel.

Academics (47053156)
Academics (47053156)

The news is obsessed by the latest series of royal revenge murders. Orestes (Zakkai Goriely), a flamboyant, floppy-haired American-accented, tiara-wearing egotist killed his mother, Clytemnestra, while his headscarf-wearing sister Electra (Anwār Omeish) and his lover Pylades (Grace Akatsu) are accomplices. They put forward their cases in Zoom chats, airing grievances for the entertainment of their viewers to the accompaniment of canned laughter and applause. They are fantasy celebrity figures ‘Live at the Apollo’ whose ultimate fate rests with the votes of their audience after the interval. As if they are on a BBC rolling news discussion, four judges provide their expert advice on the murder case – here academics Fiona Macintosh, Edith Hall, Rosa Andujar, and comedian, Greek scholar and Oxford Literary Festival regular Natalie Haynes, and beneath them, the scrolling news keeps up with the latest plot developments.

The outsider in the narrative is the blonde bombshell Helen (Ailbhe Sweeney) whom others bitterly mock for being the cause of the tragic Trojan war, mother to her eye-rolling, sulky daughter Hermione (Abi Watkinson). Whilst Helen is castigated for an being out-of-touch has-been by Orestes, now sporting bright green eye make-up, she and Hermione are held hostage by Orestes and Pylades prior to the votes being counted. The ancient Greek roots of the drama show through most with the chorus characters P (Ollie Khurshid) and Q (Shreya Dua) whose dialogue most resembles a translation from Euripides. As the god Apollo (Philippa Lang) turns Helen into a literal star, the drama ends with everyone ‘navigating the new normal’. An inventive novelty.

Choral Ode (47053046)
Choral Ode (47053046)

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