OTR interviews Arabella Currie

Tue 18th Oct 2011


“Soundbite to be specified”





DEM Productions


Alexander Fisher interviews Arabella Currie about her translation for Children of Oedipus, a new play based on Euripides' 'Phoenician Women'. Written and directed by Currie, the production opens on Wednesday the 26th (3rd Week) at the O'Reilly.

Alexander Fisher interviews Arabella Currie about her translation for Children of Oedipus, a new play based on Euripides' 'Phoenician Women'. Written and directed by Currie, the production opens on Wednesday the 26th (3rd Week) at the O'Reilly.

1. How difficult was it to adapt Euripides' original?

The Phoenician Women is already an astonishingly modern play (which offends Classicists who throw it out of the canon). It predicts much of what is found in the tragicomedies of people like Chekhov – untidy storylines, unheroic heroes, empty lengths of time and so on – so I could adapt it with the help of later plays in mind.

2. The legend of Oedipus is particularly well-known nowadays but this is entitled 'Children of Oedipus'. What can we expect from the next generation?

Euripides’ version of the legend is strange: instead of the tradition of Oedipus disappearing into heroic exile and Jocasta committing heroic suicide, they all stay at home. The next generation have grown up in this household, and so are suitably scarred - his two sons are on the brink of unleashing civil war, his daughter has never stepped foot outside the house because of the stigma of being a child of Oedipus. She continuously relives her seventh birthday party – the day they found out who Oedipus was – celebrating it again and again, with the cake slowly mouldering and the balloons wilting…

3. The play was initially entitled 'Phoenissae' or 'The Phoenician Women' - why the change in title?

The change in name is partly due to the issue of the chorus, one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with Greek Tragedy. Euripides named the play after the chorus of servants, but I decided to cut them completely. I think that it would be damaging to prize faithfulness and tradition above making this play work in the here and now, and think that the chorus often drives an unsinkable wedge between the audience and the ancient text. Plus, ‘Children of Oedipus’ brings across the focus of this production – what the hell people do in the aftermath of tragedy.

4. Why did you decide to re-work this particular play?

I think that, in this play, Euripides is proposing a new vision of tragedy, one which gets rid of lofty speeches and heroic reactions and shows instead the way people really react to extraordinary suffering. So it seemed like a good idea to put it on, to examine these myths in a real setting, to avoid masks and robes and people falling nobly on their swords and bearing their souls in perfect rhyme and constantly tearing their hair out, and all these things which make up ‘tragedy’.

5. When did you start adapting the play?

It took me all summer to do it, laboriously looking up vocab in the dictionary so I could know the Greek inside out, and then trying to translate it and shape it into something new. Luckily, we’d already cast it before the vacation, so I could write the parts with the specific actors in mind.

6. This is not the first time that the O'Reilly theatre has hosted a play from the Ancient Greeks. Would you say that your adaptation is meeting a renewed demand for and interest in the Classics?

I’d say the renewed, or at least continued, interest in the Classics is something that needs explaining – why on earth people are still putting on these plays and reading these poems. There’s a danger that interest in the Classics can become stagnant, insular and complacent, so it always needs to be explained or at any rate questioned. I’m very glad that this play is happening in the same term as the Oxford Greek Play, Clytemnestra, since the two are completely different reactions to tragedy, and so demonstrate the importance of keeping this question alive.

7. Have there been any characters that have been edited out or factored in from the original?

The world of Oedipus is a seriously decaying one, both in terms of his family falling apart but also of his class destroying itself. The old guard - the royal family - are on their last legs, and there is a sense of a new order coming around the corner. So, I expanded the role of the Tutor, who is really a slave, whose existence is entirely wrapped up in the continuation of the royal family. Without them he is going to be nothing, and he and the family do not know how to function with their world order coming down about their ears. Despite the focus on the domestic sphere in the play, there is a political one hovering above – the sons are fighting doggedly for single rule, while Oedipus’ downfall suggests the dangers of such a system.

8. The play takes place mainly in Ancient Thebes - has your re-working of the play ventured into new territories at all?

It’s tried to get as far from Thebes as possible, flying across the world and forward a good few years. I want this play to be seen in terms of more recent theatre, and so it is set in the world of that theatre – the early 20th century world of people like Synge and O’Casey. We can’t avoid watching an ancient play with all these other plays in the backs of our heads, and this version is trying to exploit that necessity rather than crush it. The set is designed to bring to mind the theatre of that era, as well as what was going on in the wider world in those years.

9. Can we expect any other adaptations from you in the future?

That’s very hard to say, I’ll see.

Interview conducted by Alexander Fisher.


Keble O'Reilly

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