Do3: Euripides/Helen

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  • french frank
    Administrator/Moderator
    • Feb 2007
    • 29477

    Do3: Euripides/Helen

    Sunday 27 February:

    "Don Taylor's translation of the savage tragicomedy by Euripides about a war in the Middle East fought for the flimsiest of reasons.

    The Trojan War is over and the Greek forces are making their way home. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Helen of Troy is protesting to anyone who will listen that she is innocent, that she never went to Troy, and the whole war was fought under false pretences. When her husband Menelaus is shipwrecked on the shore where Helen has been taking sanctuary, she not only has a lot of explaining to do, but also an escape to plan."

    Wikipedia on Helen.
    It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.
  • aeolium
    Full Member
    • Nov 2010
    • 3992

    #2
    Did anyone else listen to this production? I enjoyed it, especially the contrast between the sometimes earthy dialogue of the main actors and the lyrical language of the Chorus. I'm surprised that it was described as a tragicomedy as there didn't seem to be that many comic moments, though the translation tried to emphasise them more than others, for instance the old Gilbert Murray one that is available in the text link from the Wiki entry. There seemed to be bitter reflections about the gods, who seemed to be capricious, sometimes vindictive and jealous, casually inflicting suffering - though they had to be accorded proper respect. Menelaus and Theoclymenus were both portrayed as not being the brightest, Theoclymenus particularly doltish. I thought all the parts were well spoken by the actors.

    I have to say that I found the story about Helen being substituted by an eidolon, a phantom look-alike, at Troy hard to follow. But then I often get the feeling when listening to plays by the ancient Greeks that I am encountering an unfathomably different way of looking at the world. Perhaps those who have made a real study of this literature and the life of the ancient world may be able to illuminate it more. Come in tony yyy...

    Comment

    • DracoM
      Host
      • Mar 2007
      • 12803

      #3
      Crikey! Terribly sorry, I turned it OFF in exasperation.

      The claim that it was a 'wonderful piece of work' seemed just a tad OTT?

      Does the original really keep telling us back stories in almost serial digressions in every other sentence? Or is that the current adaptation's way of elucidating and creating accessibility?

      Totally agree that the notion it was 'comedy' in any way rather passed me by.

      Frances Barber did a valiant job with what sounded like a bit of a clumsy script.

      Comment

      • Russ

        #4
        Maybe it was just my mood, but I thoroughly enjoyed this eccentric adaptation - Don Taylor's characteristic robust style takes all sorts of liberties with the original script (http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~loxias/helen.htm), and this accentuates the lighthearted comedic elements, which in large part are driven by the device of mistaken/disguised identities that runs throughout the play. The big problem is that Taylor’s naturalistic dialogue lies uneasily alongside the poetic myth, and we are left with a humdrum story amounting to not much more than a rediscovered romance, played in nearly knockabout farce mode, plus lots of stuff about how untrustworthy, capricious and inconsistent the gods are. I think it holds together because of the strength of the writing, the good pacing, and the excellent production by Ellen Dryden - the late playwright’s wife, as it happens, so this is at least authentic Don Taylor.

        Does it have contemporary resonance? I tend to think not, although the BBC blurb might like us to think so, presumably on the grounds that the play’s portrayal of the entire Trojan War being waged over a silly mistaken premise (and yes, that background does intensify the tragi-comedy) makes it equivalent to the now infamous absence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

        The acting was excellent - the women are wise or manipulative (not uncommon in Euripedes) and the men are gullible but brave, and Frances Barber camped it up well as Helen.

        Russ
        Last edited by Guest; 04-03-11, 11:19.

        Comment

        • tony yyy

          #5
          Originally posted by aeolium View Post
          Perhaps those who have made a real study of this literature and the life of the ancient world may be able to illuminate it more.
          I wish they would. Sadly, my fluency in Greek is such that it takes me an extraordinarily long time to 'read' a text. As it happens, I have William Allan's recent(ish) edition of Helen but I estimate it will be some years before I get round to reading it.

          I suspect it's not easy to bring ancient Greek drama to a modern audience. The structure is quite rigid, with prologue, entrance (parados), alternating dialogue (episodes) and choral odes (stasimons) and exodos and the language uses specifically poetic forms and elements of Doric, especially in the choral songs with their elaborate metres. Even the comedies of Aristophanes have similar formal structures, with differences in metre and language. Much of what the original audiences experienced must surely be lost to us. Nevertheless, I find the mixture of strangeness and dramatic power fascinating even though it is elusive.

          Given the recent excellent Buchner season, it's a pity that more background couldn't be given for something like Helen. It deserves a Sunday Feature at least. According to Allan, Helen seems to have divided scholars somewhat, some seeing it as a lightweight comedy, some as an intellectually serious exploration of the ideas of philosophers such as Heraclitus and Parmenides. It would be interesting to hear a proper discussion of the play by eople who know what they're talking aboiut.

          I don't think Euripides' treatment of the gods is unusual for Greek literature (although Aristophanes called him atheos in his parodies) and the gulf between gods and men is a common theme.

          As Russ points out, dominant women seem to be quite common in Euripdes and the heroes don't seem very heroic to us - Jason appears a somewhat pathetic character, preoccupied by appearance and status, alongside the fearsome Medea.

          Anyway, I'm still looking forward to listening to the production and perhaps I'll even get round to reading it one day.

          Comment

          • french frank
            Administrator/Moderator
            • Feb 2007
            • 29477

            #6
            I have no idea how true this adaptation was to the sprit of the original play but to me it was comedy all the way: the translation and the performances.

            The short section fom Herodotus (Book 2, 112-120) describes how the Egyptians' version of the story was that when the Greeks defeated the Trojans they (the Trojans) claimed that Helen could not be returned to them because she wasn't there. Paris, returning to Troy with the stolen Helen, had been driven by bad weather to the coast of Egypt where they were received by King Proteus. Outraged, he sent Paris on his way back to Troy, while Helen was detained in Egypt. Euripides has Paris returning with an 'eidolon', or spirit image of Helen (created, presumably by the gods, who had willed that Paris should not have her).

            This production seems to have been conceived as a comedy. The moments of reflection are not laboured and Euripides allowed it a happy ending, at least for the two principles. Right has somehow triumphed, with the help of the gods. With the proviso that I'm not sure Euripides would have recognised his own intention, I did enjoy it.
            It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.

            Comment

            • tony yyy

              #7
              I enjoyed this, although I think I would have preferred it if it hadn't stressed the comedy so much that it turned into a farce. It almost became Carry on Helen at times and I wondered if Frances Barber had based her performance on Cleopatra from Carry on Cleo. And where on earth did the Dioscuri's accent come from?

              Anyway, well done to R3 for giving us a chance to hear the play.

              Comment

              • aeolium
                Full Member
                • Nov 2010
                • 3992

                #8
                Reading a translation of the text (admittedly an old one) I couldn't see much in it that could be taken for comedy. And running through the play as a constant was the fresh memory of the enormous and pointless - since the real Helen was never even at Troy, in this version - loss of life in the Trojan war, and the destruction of a city. References to this constantly come up in the play (and in other of Euripides' plays), so it's difficult to make out a case that Euripides intended it to be a comedy. Perhaps this was more Don Taylor's take on it.

                Comment

                • french frank
                  Administrator/Moderator
                  • Feb 2007
                  • 29477

                  #9
                  An interesting discussion of the tragedy/comedy question in Helen, pointing out that Greek dramatists wrote either tragedy or comedy and Euripides wrote tragedy. On the other hand ...
                  It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.

                  Comment

                  • aeolium
                    Full Member
                    • Nov 2010
                    • 3992

                    #10
                    Yes, I think I agree generally with what that essayist is saying. After all there are comic touches or interludes in even Shakespeare's darkest tragedies but they don't essentially detract from the overall tone. It's so hard to work out what the intention of the dramatist was or the expectations of the audience nearly 2500 years ago. The whole idea of comedy seems to have been quite different. And comedy doesn't often translate across time and culture - look at Shakespeare's 'comedies' for instance.

                    Comment

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