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Overview of the Modern Perfomance of Greek Drama

Lorna Hardwick (1998, updated 2005)

 

The purpose of this Introduction is to offer an overview of the current and future work of the research project, to identify and explain its parameters, to indicate areas where the focus has been shaped by conceptual consideration, to identify significant issues and problems which will be the subject of future investigation and to contextualise the drama database both culturally and methodologically.

The methods used are determined by the scope and aims of the project. The research is a response to the renewed upsurge of interest in Greek drama and poetry, both in the original and in translation, which became such a strong feature of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The intention is to research, document and debate this phenomenon in ways which will be of value to those researching and studying in this and other closely related fields and in particular to open up ways of describing, analysing and explaining the relationship between ancient and modern texts, performances and readings. Therefore, in addition to the light shed on modern Reception of particular ancient texts it is hoped that issues and theories can be addressed which are also relevant to Reception in other periods. For example, questions about why and how the same text can be seen as conservative in one context and radical or even subversive in another require comparative study not only of ancient and modern but also of a range of modern examples.

We have not been rigid about chronological limits. Wole Soyinka's version of Euripides, The Bacchae: a Communion Rite (published 1973) is often taken as the opening fanfare of the awakening interest in Greek drama in the last part of the twentieth century, but we have considered earlier material where it is relevant, symptomatic and/or influential. Works which are performed or published slightly later than the year 2000 will also be included since their inspiration and creation might fairly be said to be located in the twentieth century. As well as works referring to particular Greek texts or groups of texts, the project also includes those referring to stories and figures from myth or to themes and images, such as Troy , Dionysus, Achilles.

•  Main aspects of the research

•  Theoretical Framework

•  The role of the drama database

•  Why the database is necessary

•  Advantages of publishing on the Internet

•  Opportunities and difficulties

•  Databases and the wider research community

•  Language

•  Categories and documentation

•  Evidence and sources

1. Main aspects of the research

There are two main aspects to the research. The first is concerned with the preparation of detailed case studies which examine the formal, discursive and contextual relationships between Greek texts and new creative work in drama and poetry. These studies map 'correspondences' of situation, relationships, language and image which converge on or diverge from the Greek. They analyse ways in which complex discourses are 'translated' and 'transplanted across time, place and language. Case studies completed so far have been published conventionally in books and refereed journals [ Publications ]

The second aspect of the research is the preparation and publication of a database of late twentieth-century examples. This supports the aim of the project to study performance as well as text. The drama section of the database draws on primary evidence from programmes, acting scripts, prompt books, interviews and theatre records as well as texts. Theatre and poetry performance in the original language and in translation is included, as are versions, adaptations and new work for which an ancient text or myth is the springboard. Together with the poetry database which is now under construction thiis wil inform on-going work on literatures in English, the history of which has been characterised by the importance of the relationship between classical poetry and drama, translation and 'new' poetry and drama. The design of the databases are being developed by Carol Gillespie, Project Officer and IT co-ordinator.

2. Theoretical Framework

The project's approach to Reception Studies is dialogic. This means that the focus is on the engagement of the modern with the dynamics of the ancient, with resulting insights into the interpretation of both. This approach contrasts with more traditional methods which concentrate on the 'influence' of the ancient work or describe 'reactions' to it, as though the ancient work and its interpretation could be thought of as something fixed and static. One of the positive aspects of recent research into the appropriation of classical culture by succeeding traditions is that this has also liberated classical texts from a straightjacket of identification with the values and interpretations of the appropriating societies and has thus opened up the reading and interpretation of ancient poetry and drama for re-examination. In this sense Reception Studies is not merely concerned with the receiving tradition but can also yield insights about the source text or performance.

Intertextual approaches to literature are now an accepted part of modern scholarship but there is also further scope for consideration of the impact on staging of intertextuality of performance, a meta-theatre which self-consciously enters into a dialogue or even an agon with contemporary as well as ancient performances. It is hoped that documentation of the processes of performance creation will support future research in this area and will enable assessment of the impact of theatre practitioners who are themsleves 'receivers' of the ancient material as well as being part of their own theatrical and cultural traditions.

Researching performance aspects of Reception also raises questions about audience response and will involve analysis of audience expectations prior to performance (including knowledge or otherwise of the Greek works) and reactions after it. We hope in the future to study this through action research projects in collaboration with theatre practitioners. There is a lack of relevant theoretical work in this field. Although reader response theory suggests potential for analagous work on audience response it is logistically difficult to organise and evaluate.

We also think that the material environment for modern performances merits detailed investigation. Quite apart from the relationship between the size and type of theatrical space and its use in performance, there are underlying issues which can broadly be described as constituting the Management of Culture. For example, what plays are staged and texts published? Where and by whom? What criteria are paramount in these decisions (aesthetic, educational, financial, political)? To use a Greek analogy, how and why is a Chorus granted and by whom? The manipulation of public taste and the reading of investment trends are recognised imperatives in professional theatre management but there is wide debate about their relation to, on the one hand, the commercial attractions of globally 'acceptable' entertainment, and on the other, to the tangible, unique and perhaps unsettling impact of live theatre. Where might Greek drama lie on this spectrum?

The project aims to enhance the availability of documented raw material which will inform judgements about these underlying questions. It will be necessary to formulate and address key questions such as - to what extent are 'accessibility' and 'feasibility of production' fashionable buzzwords? Are such concepts constructed from criteria which are both aesthetic and socio-political? What kind of role in enabling and directing artists and audiences is played by the underlying ideologies and criteria used by funding sources (from the Arts Council to commercial theatre)? Such questions impact particularly keenly on the environment of modern productions of Greek drama in which too rigid a polarity between the priorities and expectations of the 'traditionally classical' establishment and those of the 'traditionally radical' theatre sector can obscure and impede the negotiation, experiment and fluidity which lies between. Later versions of the database and its associated case-studies will aim to include source material and analysis of these questions.

The published form of the database is 'nested' in a series of short Essays, also published electronically, which addresses theoretical and practical issues underlying the construction of the database and informing its critical use. The first seven Essays in this series are now available:

•  Essay 1: Using Reviews - A Preliminary Evaluation

•  Essay 2: Greek Drama at the end of the Twentieth Century: Cultural Renaissance or Performative outrage ?

•  Essay 3: The use of set and costume design in modern productions of ancient Greek drama

•  Essay 4: Understanding Theatre Space

•  Essay 5: Interviews in classical performance research:
(1) journalistic interviews

•  Essay 6: Interviews as a methodology for performance research: (2) Academic interviews - an invitation for discussion

•  Essay 7: Theory and Practice in Researching Greek Drama in Modern Cultural Contexts: the problem of the photographic image

3. The role of the drama database

The database is a tool for maximising the research potential and importance of performance as well as text. It is very much the conventional wisdom that drama should be researched and studied at least as much through performance as through text. Yet the mechanisms for making this a reality, and in particular for permitting analysis of a range of productions, are often sadly lacking. Performance needs to be analysed with the same degree of rigour expected of textual studies. This is not to say that the nature of the evidence or the criteria for assessment are the same as for the study of printed texts. There is a need to identify and document evidence which may by its nature be ephemeral. It is also necessary to range beyond the 'canonical' productions, directors and companies (such as the Royal Shakespeare Company or well known widely reviewed commercial enterprises) and to survey a broad spectrum of examples, including those from student, touring and alternative theatre. Where possible we have also documented information about the processes of performance creation, and recorded interviews with translators and directors are stored in our archive.

We hope that the project will provide a resource for researchers and students coming from several different starting points, such as modern literature and theatre studies as well as classical studies. So, for example, it will be possible to search the database by year, director, actor, company, as well as by title of the ancient play or author or by modern author or translator. In this way, the resource should also be important for future cultural historians examining the subject of twentieth century artistic and dramatic interest in ancient Greece .

4. Why the database is necessary

Much of the important evidence about a performance is normally lost when the run ends and the company disbands so the project will document important aspects, for example whether and how the conventions of Greek drama were used, staging, music and choreography. Sometimes, researchers can be referred to a theatre archive with details of how it can be accessed. Reviews will be referenced and sometimes briefly quoted and details given of whether there is a published text/ translation or a privately held manuscript. The project documentation will be particularly important where programme details are minimal or where there is no permanent company archive (or indeed no permanent company).

The database should enable better informed critical responses to issues such as the changing role of the same text in different situations and cultural contexts. It will stimulate discussion about the possibility of transplanting the dynamics of Greek drama into modern performances which cannot reconstruct the Greek conventions of theatrical space, size, location, and community political and religious status and which sometimes cannot and sometimes will not attempt to use the ancient theatrical conventions, e.g. masks, song, dance, Chorus. It will also provide primary evidence to inform debate about contentious issues, such as whether the religious and cultural ethos of Greek tragedy and its theatrical conventions implants into modern productions a sense of fate and human impotence which is both formally and ideologically incongruous in the modern age. We aim to indicate, where known, the nature and impact of changes or omissions in the use of the ancient text and to allow comparison of ancient and modern physical and cultural contexts of performance.

So the database will not merely list productions, important though that is, but will seek to enrich the documentation and discussion of processes. In so doing, we hope to encourage interdisciplinary work and especially to promote understanding of the dynamics of the Greek plays themselves so that those whose training has been in other disciplines do not regard them as 'closed' texts, to be measured merely in terms of the authenticity of reconstruction or the manipulation of a supposedly static and unproblematic ancient play.

5. Advantages of publishing on the Internet

The development of a database nowadays implies electronic publication. We have chosen the Internet rather than CD ROM because publication on the Net suits the nature of the evidence and the aims of the research. It is necessary to use a medium which permits regular updating and publication in successive stages (Versions) as different features are added to the project. This form of publication also allows the database to be contextualised and explained in a series of Essays examining different aspects of the use of sources and other critical features, including bibliography.

In addition, the researchers have a fundamental commitment to disseminating the results of research as widely as possible. (The project also provides short resumés for popular publications.) Advances in the availability of IT, including access to the Internet via cybercafes, community centres and public libraries, mean that most interested people will be able to get access inexpensively, and print off the results of their searches. The project team has co-operated with the Arts and Humanities Data Service, drawing on its expertise in the archiving of electronic projects to ensure continuing access to the database.

Internet publishing also allows us to include facilities for users to contribute to the research either by using the rapid-response button to volunteer specific information or by completing the electronic datagathering form we have devised.

6. Opportunities and difficulties

Any research into drama encounters difficulties about the availability of video recordings. Copyright problems frequently constrain the inclusion of clips in published research. Furthermore, using video to research performance brings its own problems. Video itself 'directs the gaze' and the gaze is unilateral. More work needs to be done on the teaching and research implications of working from video. It is necessary to develop and evaluate research methods which, while utilizing video, subject it to critical scrutiny and consider it with other sources as part of a more pluralistic approach. The video can deceive us into thinking we are experiencing the 'original' performance. The database is a useful tool in correcting this illusion. The planned research into audience response will recognise the importance of the 'multilateral gaze'.

Nevertheless, a database is not an objective structure and it is necessary to be as clear and open as possible about the research methods used, including the rationale for categorizing evidence. Material has to be located, selected and categorised. Even decisions about whether a production is to be described as an adaptation or a version are culturally loaded, reflecting judgements about its relationship to the Greek original and its status as a new work. Other judgements which are reflected in categorisation include identification and interpretation of the effects on staging of the conventions of Greek drama; statements about 'gender interest', 'ethnic interest', and definitions of 'poor' or 'alternative' theatre. Larger issues have also been raised about 'what counts as evidence' in the context of performance and there are critical problems involved in the selction and evaluation of evidence from sometimes ambivalent sources, such as Reviews. We include short analytical Essays on these and other relevant subjects in order to assist critical use of the material in the database. These Essays, in common with all material published electronically or in hard copy in the course of the project, are subject to external review before publication.

7. Databases and the wider research community

This kind of project also has implications for the nature and working practices of the research community. In the first place, the nature of the research maximises links with practitioners and audiences. This impacts on data gathering. Apart from the conventional sources such as theatre listings, programmes and fieldwork by the project team, we also use data gathering forms (hard copy and electronic) so that others can send in information. This has obvious implications for filtering and quality control. It also means that research becomes more participative and co-operative.

The project also has valued links with other groups, notably the Oxford Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (all languages,1500 to the present) and with the European Network of Research and Documentation of Greek Drama, which has ambitious plans for future international co-operation in both teaching and research.

In itself, the project team is interdisciplinary. As well as academic researchers and research consultants (Alison Burke, Ruth Hazel and Antony Keen, we need the specialist skills of our IT coordinator and we have benefitted from the expertise of our computing associates David Wong (Open University) and Greg Parker ( Solutions Factory ). Finally, the open-endedness of the research and its medium presents decision making problems about the stage at which work in progress is piloted and published. We have opted to publish in stages (titled as Versions), which will enable us to undertake periodic reviews of the utility of the database as a research tool.

The sections of this introduction which follow outline specific issues of language; categorisation; evidence and primary sources.

8. Language

The research project studies the reception of classical texts in English. By English, we mean and will include examples of any of the many (and still developing) ways in which the English language has responded to and shaped perceptions of classical drama and poetry. This of course reflects the existence of a fluid zone of cultural exchange, including, for example, Irish-English, Scots-English, Caribbean-English, American-English, and the many variants and dialects. It also recognises the importance of multi-lingual poetry and language juxtaposition in drama performances, such as the Greek/English material in Harrison's Trackers (DB no. 219), the Greek/ Creole/ English interfaces in Walcott's Stage Version of the Odyssey (DB no. 845), and the Xhosa and other languages of South Africa interlaced with English in Medea (DB no. 827). We have also included films subtitled in English (for example Elektreia DB no. 130, A Dream of Passion (based on Medea ) DB no. 181), performances in other languages with English sur-titles, for example the Oresteia of the Craiova Theatre of Romania (DB no. 940) and performances of drama in the original Greek when presented to audiences who might be expected to interpret, review and discuss primarily through the medium of English (for example Oedipus Tyrannus DB no.230). Documentation of performances in the original language (for example the Cambridge Greek play) is important in order to allow wider analysis and comparison of cultural contexts, including the relationship between productions in the original and in translation and to foster research on audience experience and expectations.

Some inconsistencies are inevitable and where there is a doubt our policy is to include rather than exclude. Thus details of the performance of Les Atrides in the UK have been included because of the cultural influence of the production (DB no.152). We hope that our co-operation with other research projects will contribute to detailed analysis and comparison of performances of Greek drama and their role in cultural exchange across a range of languages and traditions.

Therefore the 'in English' parameters of the project should be seen as recognizing the varieties and flexibilities of the English language, globally in its various cultural contexts and not as the imposition of any kind of cultural straitjacket or hierarchy. In particular, we make no assumptions about the existence of the kind of 'Anglicized' performance style for Greek drama, so graphically described by Herbert Golder ( Arion , Third Series 4.1 Spring 1996, pp 174ff) and which has prompted much controversy about the extent to which the evidence justifies any generalisation about the existence of so-called 'national' stereotypes of performance style, let alone of claims that some styles (i.e. cultures/nations?) can be said to be more faithful (proprietors?) to the original. (For this debate see subsequent issues of Arion, especially Oliver Taplin's response in Arion, Third Series 5.3 Winter 1998). On the contrary, we hope that the project as a whole and the database in itself will enable later researchers to address issues of pluralism and commonalities as well as 'otherness' and in particular to analyse and assess the impact of classical referents in post-colonial literatures, which is a major strand in our printed publications.

9. Categories and documentation

The decisions we have made about how examples are categorised and the nature of the information which is recorded about them are dictated by the overall aims of the project. All these decisions are to a greater or lesser degree culturally 'loaded' and for this reason a brief explanation is given here. In the first place, it may seem arbitrary to make the basic initial distinction between Drama and Poetry. Of course there is no suggestion that poetry plays no part in drama, and especially in Greek drama, nor indeed, do we wish to underplay the role that drama plays in some poems. Our distinction is basically generic, that drama has to do with theatre and audiences and has its own conventions. All of these characteristics place particular demands on modern staging. Nevertheless, we also recognise that performance poetry, and especially poetry taking its impetus from Greek source texts, requires special attention in documentation. Film has been documented using the basic categories applied to drama, while film poems have been documented as poetry, with some adaptations (for example, Tony Harrison's The Gaze of the Gorgon , DB no.134). It will be apparent from the references to the source text/image that there is a significant cross-over in genres from ancient source to modern realisation.

The diagram which follows shows the aspects of performance to be documented.

diagrame of aspects of performance to be documented.

It is important to identify the extent to which the ancient conventions of Greek drama, such as the Chorus, masks etc. have been transplanted into modern productions, how they are interpreted and the effects on staging. Information about music, instruments and dance (where known) is also given. Many theatre programmes are remarkably reticent about the music used and the reasons for the choice of notation, instruments and performance style. A significant exception is the 1996 production of Oedipus the King , directed by Greg McCart (DB no. 156) in which an aboriginal Chorus was accompanied by live didgeridoo. The extent to which a production takes seriously questions of dance and choreography, whether or not some kind of reconstruction or imagination of authenticity is attempted, is of great significance if a genuine comparison is to be attempted between the experiences of ancient and modern audiences. Our decisions about the kinds of documentation to be recorded therefore attest to our interest in the translation/transplantation of the formal conventions of Greek drama as well as of the subject matter and shape of myth.

A second major aspect of documentation is proving to be less susceptible to categorisation than was anticipated. This covers the relationship between the ancient source text and the modern work. In the drama database we have indicated whether the production is in the original Greek or is a translation. However, the nature of the translation (whether for example, close, literal, free) is more a matter for comment or suggestion than for an attempt at categorisation. Even where a translation follows the Greek closely, some sections may for reasons of staging be curtailed or reallocated to other speakers (see David Stuttard's production of Antigone , 1998, DB no.282). Some works combine a close relation to the Greek in some respects with a freer relationship in others, for example Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy (DB no.214)follows the text and structure of Sophocles' Philoctetes remarkably closely at most points but the departures are of great significance, notably in the make-up of the Chorus and the way the Choral Odes are used to point up the resonances with the situation in modern Ireland. Heaney described the play as 'after Sophocles' yet the published text is titled as a Version.

This slipperiness of description makes it difficult and indeed undesirable to attempt to apply too rigidly categories such as account, adaptation, realisation and version.

Translation may indicate closeness to the original in structure, imagery and even rhythm but the demands of 'cultural translation' may emphasise distance from the source text. 'Account' may also indicate a close look at the inspiration text, but perhaps implies an element of mapping or even evaluation. Christopher Logue uses the term 'account' for his reworking of Homer ( Kings, 1992, DB no. 148). 'Adaptation' suggests that a writer is consciously reworking the ancient material for another context or medium. 'Realization' implies an imaginative enactment (for example David Rudkin's Hippolytus : a realisation DB no 141) while 'version' may be considerably removed from the original in context, language and medium but yet acknowledge a relationship with it, for example Derek Walcott's A stage version of the Odyssey (DB no.845).

The range of concepts used by critics to describe the relationship between ancient and modern is growing all the time. 'Transplantation' lend itself to discussion of new growth from old roots, especially in another culture and is often associated with the use of the imagery of 'invention' derived from the critical approaches of Edward Saïd. 'Transfiguration' invokes the notion of metamorphosis, perhaps reflecting an Ovidian approach in post-modern criticism to the instability of language and interpretation. These kinds of concepts may well be illuminating in critical discussion but they are in no sense even quasi-objectively definable categories. Accordingly, they are differentiated only when specified by the author and glossed only when of particular interest in the approach of a critical work. The working distinctions used in the fields of the database are defined only as:- original language, translation, author of new version, language(s) of performance (which conveniently seem to subsume all the other possible categories). It should be noted that modern playwrights especially those who do not work from the source language, often use a close or even literal translation as the raw material from which they create the new acting script.

Most of the categories applied to the relationship between a dramatic work and its source have also been used by critics to describe poetry, although in poetry the broadness of the category 'translation' is perhaps more widely recognised. There is more emphasis on the artistic status of a translation as a poetic work in its own right. As Steiner has suggested, there is a sense that every poem which takes another poem as its reference point is in some sense a translation. Therefore, as the poetry section of the database develops our emphasis will be on trying to indicate the nature of the intertextual relationship rather than on forcing works into particular categories.

One further example of categorisation needs to be mentioned here. In documenting drama we have thought it important to indicate the type of company staging a play and the nature of the performance or 'run'. These distinctions will inform judgements about some of the socio-economic and cultural factors constraining staging, such as whether a production was designed for touring, repertory or one- off, whether the director and cast were amateur, student or professional. Where possible we hope to provide information about the type and size of playing space. We have also indicated cases where a company has been associated with 'alternative' or self-consciously subversive approaches to theatre. The inclusion of 'interest' categories, for instance in respect of gender and ethnicity, is intended to generate information about the interpretation in modern theatre of key aspects of ancient drama. Both categories should be broadly interpreted. Studies of gender in Greek drama have tended to focus on female figures such as Antigone and Medea but there is work to be done also on constructions of masculinity in modern performances and versions of, for example, Ajax and Herakles . The latter was included in the series of plays on the theme of heroism at the Gate theatre, London in 1998 (DB no. 855).

10. Evidence and sources

Once it is decided what aspects of performance should ideally be documented, there arise fairly substantial questions about what counts as evidence and how it can best be (i) evaluated and (ii) documented. In judging issues concerning evidence and its evaluation we come up against 'generic' problems such as the ephemerality of performance itself, with the result that description and response to a particular staging are complicated by both individual and collective memory (including whether or not emotion is recollected in tranquillity and/or overlaid by the impact of discussion, Reviews, and other manifestations of taste, 'approved' or otherwise). The possibilities and shortcomings of video as a preserver of the interaction of the full range of phenomena that make up performance have been mentioned earlier. There are also the (insufficiently frequently acknowledged) logistical problems for the fieldwork involved in the documentation of performance. Taping comments while the performance is in progress offends the researcher's neighbours, writing diverts the eye. Both divert the researcher's attention from the performance itself. Most researchers compromise by simulating the habits of the professional journalist and writing up notes as soon as possible after the event, regarding these as contemporaneous evidence to be cross checked with other sources. Therefore, most theatre fieldwork has the strengths and weaknesses of its journalistic counterpart. It is safest to regard it as itself a primary source, subject to the normal evaluation accorded to any source in respect of aims and conditions of production, viewpoint (literal and physical as well as metaphorical) and especially the sometimes problematic relationship between narrative/description and judgemental aspects.

Users of the database should note that where comments on aspects of a production have resulted from fieldwork by the project team, this is always stated. The project team's aims and objectives and the categories of evidence which they regard as important can be cross-checked against the relevant sections of this introduction. In the case of otherwise unpublished material offered to the project by external researchers, the individual source is named. In the case of published reviews or articles the normal referencing conventions are followed. To these sources must be added the raw material from programme notes, stage managers' notes, prompt copies, publicity handouts, posters, business plans and bids, profit and loss accounts and interviews with directors, translators and performers. All sources will be stated, where known, and further information is always welcomed. We would appreciate evaluative comment about the nature of the evidence and the context in which it came into being and the way it has been preserved.

A major problem in researching performance is that we are dealing not only with the ephemeral nature of the performance itself (though not of its influence) but also with the short life of much of the contemporary evidence created alongside it. Few companies have archives. Even those with an interest in performance history may not have the facilities to store relevant material. Indeed it is not always possible to judge possible relevance at the time. Actual relevance (as opposed to potential relevance) is determined by the nature of the questions posed by researchers. Furthermore, information about business and marketing priorities and decisions is unlikely to be freely available in the public domain.

The effect of this multiplicity of sources of evidence coupled with uncertainty about the proportion which has been preserved is to make us doubly cautious about the status of any individual item. As the project develops, special studies will be made of different types of primary sources. For example it will be necessary to assess the impact and status of the programme information, including notes on the production, both as a document recording the approach of the director and as a mechanism for guiding the expectation and response of the audience (particularly significant in the case of Greek drama where the previous cultural knowledge and perspectives of the audience are issues). For example, the importance of different ways of developing or directing audience expections has been implicitly acknowledged in the decision in respect of the RSC production of Euripides' The Phoenician Women 1995 (DB no. 211) not to make programmes available to the audience until after the performance. A sprig of thyme was substituted.

Possibly the most problematic of the primary sources in the Reception of Performance is the Review. The Review is one type of primary source which gives details of staging, acting style, design, music, choreography, properties and audience response. It is also a secondary critique arguing from perspectives which appear to be separate from the (selective) recording of detail or the narrative account of a particular performance but in fact influence these aspects.. Much work in Reception Studies makes use of the Review as a major source and critical evaluation is necessary.

The importance of the Review as a primary source requires careful analysis of its various strands(for example, narrative, critique, self-advertisement), and also of the type of publication and authorship. For instance, local newspaper, national broadsheet, classical journal all have different aims and readership and lesser or greater interest in discussing wider critical issues. Where possible we have referenced a number of Reviews of different kinds for each production and further information is always welcomed. Comparison of Reviews is a useful control on the status of apparently 'factual' information/narrative accounts. Just as important, detailed comparison reveals differences in critical standpoint which also influence the selection and evaluation of other material in the Review. For example, a comparison between two Reviews of the 1997 production of Sophocles' Electra , directed by David Leveaux (DB no. 259) reveals startling contrasts in critical judgement and in the status given to the programme notes. In the Times Literary Supplement (21 November 1997), Jane Montgomery addressed in sequence the nature of Sophocles' source text, comparison with Warner's 1991 staging (DB no. 129), analysis of performance style and the question of 'contemporary relevance'. Montgomery referred to 'a return to the bad old days of Greek tragedy productions: statuesque declaiming' and the creation of an ill-conceived Bosnian context which 'cheapens both the tragedy of Sarajevo and the chorus' theatrical meaning'. She also criticised the steady drip of water, turning to blood as revenge is enacted, dismissing it as stage dressing which misses the theatrical point and does not invoke the interior private world of the dysfunctional family behind the palace doors. The issue recalls Patrick Rourke's distinction, in his Review of Auletta's Agamemnon , 1994 (DB 851), between 'creative and destructive anachronism' (Rourke's review Timelessness and Timeliness: Anachronism in the Performance of Greek Tragedy is available at the Didaskalia website).

In contrast, Peter Stothard in The Times (7 November 1997), praised the faithfulness with which Sophocles' 'subtle and balanced' re-interpretation of the myth had been realised by director and translator, stressed the affinities between the experiences of the ancient audience and those of the people in Bosnia and linked Leveaux' programme notes about the impact on him of the suffering of Bosnian children with the universality of reference of the themes of family slaughter and revenge.

The difference in standpoint between the two reviewers, both knowledgeable and thoughtful about the history of Greek tragedy in performance, was also reflected in their comments about the translation of the conventions of Greek tragedy into modern theatre, their approach to psychological realism as a criterion of judgement and their judgements about individual roles. Montgomery 's Clytamnaestra was 'elegant but uninteresting', Stothard's was 'almost as magnificent a character as Electra herself'. Taken together and in conjunction with other sources, these Reviews are valuable and stimulating, yet each in isolation has limitations as a primary source. (Truly, let the reader of Reviews beware.) Therefore, in quoting briefly from Reviews in the database we have tried to include sufficient indication of the tone and approach to inform database users' decisions about the need to follow up by consulting the complete piece and where possible we have provided a direct link to an electronic publication.

Lorna Hardwick, Project Director, Department of Classical Studies, The Open University.
December 1998, updated 2007

(Earlier versions of the first part of this Introduction were presented at the Triennial Meeting of the Greek and Roman Societies, July 1998, Cambridge UK, and at the Conference of the Humanities Academic Network , October 1998, Milton Keynes UK. We thank the participants at these conferences for their contributions to the discussion and their subsequent comments and suggestions.)