All Greek at BFI Southbank

5th June 2012

Thursday sees the start of a season of BFI Southbank screenings of rarely seen television productions of theatre plays from ancient Greece. The season is curated by Amanda Wrigley and has been organised with the research project Screen Plays, in which Illuminations is a partner. The nine Greek tragedies plus one quasi-satyr play offer a fascinating range of approaches to the foundational plays of Western drama and the screen presentation of ancient Greece (including an Electra, above, shown unsubtitled on ITV in 1962). Together they illuminate the richly interesting variety of ways that British television has experimented with capturing the force of these ancient tales from the late 1950s to 1990. One of the events is already sold out, and tickets for the others are going fast: to book go to the website for BFI Southbank or call 020 7928 3232.

The BFI screenings are as follows:

6.10pm Thursday 7 June
King Oedipus. Play of the Month. BBC, 1972. Dir. Alan Bridges. With Sheila Allen, Anthony Bate, Ian Holm, Alan Webb. 75min.
+ Oedipus Tyrannus. BBC and The Open University, 1977. Dir. Richard Callanan. With Rosalie Crutchley, John Forbes-Robertson, Ronald Radd, Patrick Stewart. 50min.

6.15pm Wednesday 13 June
Electra. ITV, 1962. Dir. Joan Kemp-Welch. With Aspasia Papathanasiou, Georgia Saris. 58min. Associated Rediffusion’s version of Dimitris Rondiris’ internationally touring Peiraïkon Theatron production of the Sophoclean play.
+ Extract: Women of Troy. Television World Theatre. BBC, 1958. Prod. Caspar Wrede and Michael Elliott. With Catherine Lacey, Patrick Wymark. 17 of 80 min. extant
+ panel and Q&A: Join actor Fiona Shaw and Classics scholar Oliver Taplin in a discussion (chaired by Amanda Wrigley) exploring the rich history of Greek plays on British television.

6.10pm Tuesday 19 June
The Serpent Son, part 1: Agamemnon. BBC, 1979. Dir. Bill Hays. With Helen Mirren, Denis Quilley, Diana Rigg. 95min.
+ Of Mycenae and Men (written by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish, translators of The Serpent Son, in the manner of a Greek satyr play). BBC 1979. Dir. Hugh David. With Diana Dors, Bob Hoskins, Freddie Jones. 30min.

3.50pm Saturday 23 June
The Oresteia: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and Furies. Channel 4, 1983. Dir. Peter Hall. With David Bamber, Philip Donaghy, Greg Hicks, John Normington. In three parts: 97, 69, 69min + interval. Peter Hall’s 1981 National Theatre production. *SOLD OUT*

6pm Tuesday 26 June
Iphigenia at Aulis. Theatre Night. BBC, 1990. Dir. Don Taylor. With Imogen Boorman, Roy Marsden, Fiona Shaw, Tim Woodward. 120min.

Also, on Friday 22 June 2012 Screen Plays is hosting a symposium on Greek Tragedy on the Small Screen at the University of Westminster. This afternoon event will draw together the emerging strands of the season through a series of talks by experts in the field, an interview with a practitioner and a screening of a previously unseen early 1960s BBC Schools programme on Greek tragedy. Confirmed speakers are as follows; for details of how to register, please scroll down.

Dr Lynn Fotheringham of the University of Nottingham will talk about issues of 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The event is chaired by John Wyver. The registration fee for the symposium is £5. To register, please contact

Image: Michael Yates’ design for the television production of Electra (from The Times, 23 November 1962)

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