Before 500 BCE

Plays

Andromache

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Andromache is an Athenian tragedy dramatising Andromache's life as a slave, years after the events of the Trojan War, and her conflict with her master's new wife, Hermione. It was probably written during the early years of the Peloponnesian War, and first performed c.425 BC.

This translation, by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton, was prepared from the Oxford Text edited by James Diggle, and was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

The play's action is set several years after the sacking of Troy. Andromache, once the wife of Trojan hero Hector, now has a child by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She has to live as a slave, a position that is aggravated when Neoptolemus marries Hermione, the daughter of King Menelaus and Helen. Hermione is unable to get pregnant, however, and blames everything on Andromache. Andromache has taken refuge at the shrine of Thetis, the sea-nymph and mother of Achilles, and there ensues a spiralling series of revenge plots before Thetis finally appears, ex machina, to resolve things.

In their introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McDonald and Walton write: 'This is a play about passion, jealousy and murder. It shows vividly the problems that arise when one man shares his bed with two women, one of whom happens to be his wife. ... [It] illustrates duplicity and treachery, besides the precariousness of good fortune. If there is a moral message it is that people should try to behave with decency, whatever their circumstances.'

Battlefield  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Battlefield is a play adapted by Peter Brook and his regular collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne from the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata and from Jean-Claude Carrière’s play, The Mahabharata, which was originally staged by Brook at the Avignon Festival in 1985.

Battlefield was first produced at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris, on 15 September 2015. The production received its British premiere at the Young Vic Theatre, London, on 3 February 2016.

The play's action is drawn from the central section of the ancient text, in which the devastation of war is tearing the Bharata family apart. The new king must unravel a mystery: how can he live with himself in the face of the devastation and massacres that he has caused.

According to a note in the published script, 'The story unfolds in a very simple space, with a minimum of accessories. The little group of actors is like one story teller. One after the other, like with a single voice, they evoke both place and time.'

The premiere production was directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne. It was performed by Carole Karemera, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba, Sean O’Callaghan and Toshi Tsuchitori.

Lysistrata (trans. Dickinson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Aristophanes' Lysistrata is a classic Greek comedy about an extraordinary attempt by an Athenian woman, Lysistrata, to bring an end to the war that is afflicting Greece by persuading the women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk in order to force them to negotiate peace. It was originally performed in Athens in 411 BC during the Peloponnesian War, which by then had been raging for an entire generation.

The play's action takes place in the besieged city of Athens, some twenty years into the Peloponnesian War (a civil war fought between Athens and her former ally Sparta). Lysistrata ('disbander of armies') forms a plan to end the fighting. She calls together all the women in Greece, and tells them her plan: since the war is getting nowhere under men's control, and Greece is being torn to pieces, the only solution is for women to take over public affairs and manage them as successfully as they run their homes. Not only will they seize the Acropolis (so gaining control of the Athenian armoury and war-treasury), they will also withhold sex and thus persuade their men to make peace. As the men on both sides of the conflict become increasingly desperate for sex, they finally turn to Lysistrata and sue for peace.

This translation by Patric Dickinson was first published in 1957. Following Dickinson's death, it was lightly revised by Kenneth McLeish before being republished in 1996 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series. The dialogue is vividly colloquial without being constrained to a particular time-period. Lysistrata speaks with an earthy immediacy ('I told them all to be here; I said it was most important, / And they've none of them come'), while, according to an author's note, the Spartans speak with a Lancashire accent.

In his introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McLeish writes: 'At one level, Lysistrata is a farce about frustration. But its underlying ideas – that the impotence of war can be symbolised by sexual frustration, that resolution is possible and that women may be better able than men to bring this about – must have resonated with the original spectators in a way which brilliantly challenged their (and, later, our) ideas of what 'farce' ought to be.'

The Orphan of Zhao  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In the aftermath of the massacre of a clan, an epic story of self-sacrifice and revenge unfolds as a young orphan discovers the shattering truth behind his childhood. Sometimes referred to as the Chinese Hamlet and tracing its origins to the fourth century BC, The Orphan of Zhao was the first Chinese play to be translated in the West.

James Fenton’s adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao premiered with the RSC at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2012.

Our Ajax  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Torn between army politics and the love of his soldiers on the front line, a legendary leader spirals out of control.

Inspired by Sophocles’ classical play, Our Ajax draws on interviews with contemporary servicemen and women to create a modern epic of heroism, love and homeland.

Our Ajax premiered at the Southwark Playhouse, London, in November 2014.

The Suppliant Women  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Fifty women board a boat in North Africa. They flee across the Mediterranean, leaving everything behind. They are escaping forced marriage in their home and seeking asylum in Greece.

Written 2,500 years ago, The Suppliant Women is one of the world’s oldest plays. It’s about the plight of refugees, about moral and human rights, civil war, democracy and ultimately the triumph of love. It tells a story that echoes down the ages to find striking and poignant resonance today.

Featuring in performance a chorus of local women, this is part play, part ritual, part theatrical archaeology. It explores fundamental questions of humanity: who are we, where do we belong and, if all goes wrong, who will take us in?

Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women, in a version by David Greig, premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in October 2016, in a production by ATC.