Thursday, 16 February 2012

some thoughts

A month after we were introduced to the blog, and almost a week after the final performance, I (Charlie/Hippolytus) have decided to stick some thoughts down in nostalgia. Just want to say I had a tip top time first of all. things I will remember fondly are getting bloodied up in the wings twice a day for three days, musical buzzy bees, pretending to be a sexy deer with Christian in our first rehearsal, playing in general for long periods during rehearsals, doing pilates in the wings, the threat of being slapped with a fish before going on stage. many things I guess. and performing to over 500 people man! crazy people, crazy fun.

Review in The Times

Tragicomic Performance Hippolytus was anything but cheerful. Blood all over the place. But what a performance! I’ve hardly read Euripides and never seen his work staged, but Ann Carson’s translation was thrillingly vernacular and the UCL Classical Drama Society’s production explosive. Like so much classical stuff it’s all about sex and violence: Aphrodite’s revenge on the young man who wants purity more than her body. The wicked goddess fills his stepmother with desire for him, driving her to suicide and inflaming his father with rage. And boy, is the son’s ending violent, dragged across the rocks by his own horses. Among powerful performances by Eleanor Wright (The Nurse) and Rohan Pai (the messenger), both wonderfully natural, Charlie Satow really stood out as Hippolytus. It’s curious to watch a player teetering on the cusp (as Laurence Olivier sometimes did) between sheer brilliance and ham. With Satow you were at one moment gripped by his passionate innocence, sincerity and lovely poetic diction… and the next stifling a giggle at one convulsion too many in his death throes, whispering “don’t overact” and feeling sneaking sympathy for Aphrodite’s impatience with his whinnying self righteousness. But a great performance by Satow, a great play and, in a rather different way from the White Swan, a great night. - Matthew Parris, The Times, p26, 16/02/12.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Artemis, Hippolytus, and sexuality

Before the play’s first performance yesterday, we had a fantastic lecture by Professor Judith Mossman from Nottingham University, who spoke eloquently about the role of the gods in Hippolytus. One of the things that Judith stressed in her lecture was the importance of distinguishing between what Hippolytus thinks Artemis represents, and what the audience would have understood about Artemis from their own religious experience. I thought this was a very important insight, and it got me thinking about how this relates to the research I’ve done in the past on the play, particularly with regard to gender and sexuality.

It can be tempting to see Artemis and Aphrodite as polar opposites, and as representing opposing forces in human life: Artemis as purity and chastity, Aphrodite as unbridled sexuality. In the play, this perspective is compounded by the attitudes of the goddesses’ human agents: Hippolytus, the servant of Artemis, rejects all forms of sexuality, while Phaedra, who acts as Aphrodite’s unwitting agent, is consumed by uncontrollable desire. Yet within the play we find several clues that this extreme position represents only a partial account of the goddesses’ true nature, and the role that they played in religion and society.

While Artemis is a virgin goddess, and the patron of unmarried girls, in Greek life, virginity was always a temporary state which looked forward to a change: the main purpose of a Greek girl’s life was to marry and produce children. Although poetry which deals with young girls’ transitions often expresses reluctance and fear regarding these life changes, it does so in a context which celebrates the transition as a positive and important event. In religion, this is reflected by Artemis’ status as the patron of childbirth as well as virginity: her role was to guide girls in their journey from maidens to mothers, and to protect them during this final and most dangerous transition. Yet Hippolytus perceives Artemis as representing eternal virginity, and any form of sexuality posing a threat to her worship. This is encapsulated in his first scene, when he offers her a garland from an ‘untouched meadow’, which has never known agriculture or pasture, and which only those who are sophron (chaste or self-controlled) can enter. The meadow in Greek thought represents a potential location for seduction; a lush and attractive wilderness in which young girls in myth are frequently seduced, or even abducted, yet Hippolytus here attempts to sanitise the meadow, and present it as a controlled and sealed environment. This is reinforced by the prayer at the end of his speech to ‘end life’s race as I began it’; yet trying to resist change and adulthood is a futile effort, and one which disregards the important religious role that Artemis held in this sphere.

Similarly, Hippolytus’ view of Aphrodite as representing uncontrolled lust is also out of kilter with her real worship. We are reminded of this by the Nurse, who tells Phaedra that Aphrodite is unbearable in full force, but gentle to those who yield to her. While Phaedra’s adulterous lust for Hippolytus would have been considered deeply distasteful, a Greek audience would also have understood that Aphrodite as goddess of love and desire, has an important place in society: specifically within the bounds of marriage. We are reminded of the possibility of sexuality as a positive force in human life in the chorus’ second stasimon, where they imagine flying away as birds to the ends of the earth, and imaging coming to the garden of the Hesperides, where Zeus and Hera consummated their marriage. Here we find an alternative garden to Hippolytus’ airtight meadow; one which allows human love and fertility to be celebrated, while the marriage of Zeus and Hera stands as a prototype for all human marriages. Our directors have taken the decision to stage this ode as a dance between the male and female choruses; this further enhances the marital imagery in the song, and offers the possibility of a harmonious relationship between the sexes, which the characters in the play are tragically unable to attain.

In conclusion, then, we should not be tricked into accepting Hippolytus’ polarising view of the two goddesses, a view which is rooted in his own profound inability to accept sexuality as a natural part of the human experience. Rather, the play reminds us that Artemis and Aphrodite can represent a continuum of human life, even if this aspect is something that the characters in the play are unable themselves to experience.  (Laura Swift)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Opening Night - These Being The Nocturnal Ramblings Of Nakul Pande

So...we got through the first night. Actually, that is one hell of an understatement: tonight was a resounding success, and I feel I should give you my take on exactly why that was the case. It's been approximately four hours since the first performance ended, and though the adrenaline still hasn't quite worn off I'll do my best to give you a coherent picture of what the big night is like for those of us lucky enough to get to tread the Bloomsbury boards. This is my third consecutive year in the UCL Greek Play, and in my experience the first night is a generally a very nervy affair - not so much performing as attempting to overcome a series of minor (and occasionally major) crises in front of 300-500 people who may or may not want to be there. As a result the product that is presented to the audience tends to leave a bit to be desired in terms of intensity. Tonight was different. Maybe it was the first unveiling of the full costumes. Maybe it was the 7pm psyche-up session in the green room. Maybe it was just the coffee. But from the first spellbinding frame of the projection of Aphrodite to Theseus' final despairing lament, every single actor was fully locked in to what they were meant to be doing and why. In particular the choruses - of which I am proud to call myself a member - seemed to take to heart the directors' instructions to outdo each other emotionally speaking, which created a virtuous circle - the strong and at times vocal reactions of the chorus drew in even the most easily distracted members of the audience, thus providing the principal characters (especially Hippolytus, Phaedra and Theseus) with the perfect atmosphere in which to really commit to Anne Carson's powerful translation, which in turn gave the chorus the confidence to react vigorously to the crescendo of horror taking place in front of them. Being in the chorus gives you the unique opportunity to both be involved in and watch the action simultaneously - indeed, within the context of the play we are the first audience, with the people in the seats a step further removed - and this rare synergy of leads, chorus and spectators was especially notable during the closing scene where Theseus and his mortally wounded son are poignantly re-united after the revelations of Artemis - there were real tears cried tonight. For someone of my very limited acting range, being able to work off people who can be so emotionally in the moment is a gift. Vaguely-expressed thespian gubbins aside, the energy levels of everyone even vaguely involved tonight were incredible, which made the whole night a seriously enjoyable experience. Well done, every last one of you. Let's have more of the same tomorrow please (well, today now if we're being pedantic). Nakul Pande, male chorus

Sunday, 5 February 2012

only a few days to go...

It is 10:00 am on a Sunday morning, the time when any normal student is still in bed, perhaps with a hangover, and settling down for a Sunday morning of iPlayer, black coffee and mild panic over next weeks work. There is no such luxury for anyone involved in Hippolytus this year. Having struggled through the overnight snow, which has delayed the tube and buses and frozen the feet of those walking in, the cast are in University for their final run through of the play. The next time they meet it will be the dress rehearsal that happens just before opening night.

As the chorus run through their dance, I had a quick word with Louise, who plays the Goddess Aphrodite, and asked her about her play experiences:

How are you feeling now there are only a few days to go?
It’s a little bit surreal. Particularly for me as I have not been in as many rehearsals as the chorus, who have been rehearsing since Christmas. I think when we get into the theatre it will start to feel more real.

Have you enjoyed the rehearsal experience?
Yes. It’s been really good.  It was much more one on one for me, as my character has no interaction with the main cast. The filming (for the projected video) was really good. It was horrendously cold though!

How have you gone about embodying the Goddess of Love and Desire?
(says something I cannot put into print!) No, don’t put that in! I’ve gone about analysing the emotions in the script - what she wants and why. And also understanding that confidence – she can do whatever she wants – she IS sex and beauty – she is all of those things. It’s trying to get that complete and all encompassing confidence, and conveying that. It would have been easy to say, “I’m so sexy” and be obvious, like when girls put on loads of make up, and act a certain way. But it’s more than that, it’s the complete and unfaltering belief that she is the most beautiful, that she IS desire. Desire can be terrible and dark, and she is embodying that side of things and is abusing it simply because she can.

Has there been anything unique about acting in a Greek Tragedy, as opposed to any other form of theatre?
I think that didn’t affect me as much as the chorus. The lines, because it’s a translation, are a bit stylised. But because I don’t have to interact as much, it didn’t affect me. But I think it will be accessible.

What have the Producers been up to?

This last week has been very stressful for all involved. We have been signing contracts and organising the crew, whilst trying to attend the rehearsals to see how the play is progressing.
One of the major pieces of work was finalising the programme available for purchase at the performance. Abi and I, as producers, put it together and, considering we have no experience in graphic design, we are really proud of the result. The cover image is the same as the poster, which features the picture taken for us by one of our directors, Illy. But the inside is just as important, and we are so thankful to the academic staff of the Greek and Latin department UCL, who have contributed articles to help explain the history, symbolism, and significance of Hippolytus. We hope this programme will provide a valuable academic resource for the school groups who have booked seats. You can also find the original drawings of the costumes, cast biographies, and information about organisations and events to do with Classics around London.

One of the issues with student theatre is that a careful balance must be struck between our focus on putting on an amazing play and academic work. Combining rehearsals and class timetables and essays can mean that not everyone can attend all rehearsals, and this can mean that we do not run through the complete play until the dress rehearsal. This does not make for a relaxing experience, as there is always the fear that someone has been overlooked, or one scene is not run through enough, but the lines are learned and the dances choreographed and it looks amazing.  Everyone involved has been working hard to complete their coursework before Playweek, and now we are at liberty to devote ourselves to the play for the next few days.  Abi and I are here for the final run-through, and we are blocking the performance in order to give our backstage crew the most detailed notes possible at the Tech rehearsal tomorrow. We have makeup artists, prop managers, and stage crew awaiting instruction and the wonderful Jo Golding at the Bloomsbury has designed our lighting.

So with the programmes made, the rights signed off on, and the crew raring to go, we are ready for playweek to begin!


Saturday, 4 February 2012

A Study in Make-Up

As part of the process of creating our "world of Hippolytus" we explored many ideas to complete and complement the themes and costumes of the production.

Abi (Producer) and Millie (Director) a.k.a exactly one half of the production and directorial team spend an incredible hour or so in a professional stage make up shop and took great care to source the right products to make the characters come to life on stage.

After a long day of rehearsing with the cast we came home and couldn't resist "testing" the bruise palette and fake blood...which led to a good few hours of transforming Abi into every character in the play - even the boys!

Needless to say it was a good way to spend a snowy evening! Abi's final words were "My face is sore!" However, we recognised that we needed to adjust important aspects of the make-up, such as enlongating the brow in the Nurse and Female Chorus characters to accentuate the bird like aspects, to define bone structure and complement the exaggerated flick of the eyeliner. 

We also experimented with the layering of the colours to create authentic bruises and bloody injuries for Hippolytus' death scene. 

Here is the photographic evidence:

Abi as a man...It took a while to get used to the stippling sponge and we now know that only a little product is needed to creat a natural effect.
 Practising using the bruise wheel and fake blood:

 Using the grey base and purple shadow to create Phaedra's corpse make-up:
 Practising the accentuated, feathered flick for the Nurse's eyeliner:
 Provisional fully made-up Nurse:

 Natural and dewy look for the Goddesses:
 The Bird of Paradise make-up for the female chorus:
 Above is without accentuated eyebrows, the rest is the final provisional look: