Alcestis

Oliver JAMES reviews an intense but mildly confusing adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy.

ADC ADC theatre Alcestis Cambridge Acting euripides Ted Hugues

29th January, ADC, 11pm, £6/£5

Alcestis is a play that has divided critics since its first showing in 438 BCE, when it won second place in the Dionysia festival of Ancient Greece.

The Alcock Players’ rendition of Ted Hughes’ adaptation was no exception to this tradition, leaving the audience conflicted and slightly confused with this modern take on an ancient classic.

The play surrounds the death of its namesake mythological queen, Alcestis, who gives her life to allow her husband to live past his natural lifespan. To attempt a modern adaptation of such a classic text is brave by most standards, especially when daring to maintain the original (albeit translated) script in a modern setting. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet is a masterpiece because this gamble worked, unfortunately I hesitate to say that it did for this version of Alcestis.

Given such a radical adaptation from Ancient Greece to modern times, the setting and artistic direction are of key interest. The relocation however was slightly confusing, and it was difficult to gauge which era the director was aiming for. The costuming was in good taste, but the male performers were either dressed in early 70’s off-grey suits with red accessories (giving an appropriate sombre mood to a play about mourning and sacrifice) or in late-2000’s slim fitting darker suits, and the women were wearing sleek but post-90’s smart casual. Furthermore, the music during the Chorus and Heracles’ drunken scene was markedly mid-90’s to mid-2000’s. It seemed as if the aim was ‘modern’, but by a 50 year ball-park.

Alcestis updated

Alcestis updated

With a delicate script broaching some fairly weighty topics, this production is nothing short of intense. The delivery thus becomes precarious as there is a fine line between emotive and hysteric, especially when managing an older text. With icy, glass-like lows and passionate highs, the stand out performer of the evening was Sarah Livingstone as Alcestis herself. Equally, Chris Born’s delivery of some heat-filled lines as Admetos balanced the strength and wisdom I could imagine the first audience enjoying in 438BCE. That being said, several audience members noted the unsettling pauses of other performers who appeared to have almost forgotten their lines. Furthermore, the corruption of certain dialogues from robust and hearty into plain shouting for lengths at a time was slightly uncomfortable.

Despite being mildly confusing, this production has its highlights and provides an insightful take on death and mourning. Through its dark and tragic plot, Alcestisleaves the audience pondering some heavy themes which have plagued mankind through time. And that’s before one even broaches the position of women…