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Greek Plays on the Small Screen symposium, 22 June 2012

The Radio Times cover for The Serpent Son, 1979In order to draw together the threads of the BFI season titled Classics on TV Greek Plays on the Small Screen, we have organised an afternoon symposium at the University of Westminster to include five papers, an interview with a practitioner and a previously unseen early 1960s BBC Schools Television programme on Greek tragedy.

The BFI season, which has been curated by Amanda Wrigley, illuminates the richly interesting variety of ways that British television experimented with capturing the force of ancient Greek drama on the small screen from the late 1950s to 1990. These nine television productions of Greek tragedy, plus one quasi-satyr play – rarely before seen since their first transmission – offer a fascinating range of approaches to the foundational plays of Western drama and the screen presentation of ancient Greece.

The season will be accompanied by a panel discussion on 13 June with actor and director Fiona Shaw and Professor Oliver Taplin, a classical scholar who has a wealth of experience both working with theatrical practitioners on productions of Greek drama and appearing on television programmes on ancient Greece.

The symposium, which will be chaired by John Wyver, will explore several interesting avenues suggested by these screenings in a series of talks by experts in the field. For example:

Oedipus, blinded, at desk (BBC, 1972)

Oedipus, blinded, at desk (BBC, 1972)

Professor Oliver Taplin of the University of Oxford will offer his thoughts on the two stage productions of Greek tragedy to have been ‘translated’ to the television medium: the 1962 ITV production of the Peireikon Theatron production of Sophocles’ Electra – given in modern Greek, without subtitles! – and Channel 4’s 1983 version of the 1981 National Theatre Oresteia trilogy, directed by Peter Hall, on which Professor Taplin served as academic advisor.

Professor Lorna Hardwick of The Open University will talk about the use of television transmissions for the teaching of drama by The Open University and how this has developed and changed from 1971 to the present, drawing on her personal experience working in the Department of Classical Studies during some of this period.

Dr Amanda Wrigley of the University of Westminster will talk about television’s creative and technological responses to the performance styles and dramatic conventions of 5th-century Athens, and specifically how ancient Greek imaginative and performative spaces were constructed in the television studio with a focus on Alan Bridges’ ‘inside-out’ production of King Oedipus for the BBC in 1972.

Dr Tony Keen of The Open University will discuss the extent to which The Serpent Son, the BBC’s Oresteia trilogy of 1979, had a science fiction aesthetic. This production of the three plays of Aeschylus featured costumes designed by Barbara Kidd, who was feted for her work on Doctor Who.

Dr Lynn Fotheringham of the University of Nottingham will talk about issues surrounding authenticity and historicity in the production of Greek tragedies for television, focusing particularly on the last major production of Greek tragedy to have been transmitted on British television – Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis produced by Don Taylor in 1990.

The event is open to all.

The registration form, and instructions on how to pay the £5 registration fee, can be downloaded here.

Staff and students of the University of Westminster should instead complete the internal booking form which is available from Amanda Wrigley.


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Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace
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