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Style: Classical theatre

‘Classical theatre’ may be interpreted beyond strict boundaries.  It is not interchangeable in meaning with 'classics'. 

Spanning across the centuries, it can include the work of ancient Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, not to mention new writing that some may see as 'classic' - though often this loose terminology bleeds far from the vein of classical theatre.

Scene from theatre babel's Thebans; Photo: Douglas McBride

Classical theatre tends towards the text-based, whereby the core of the performance is in the primacy of language.  ‘Whether poetry, prose or a combination of the two…language is the subtlest means of exploring both situation and character’.

Classical theatre throughout history

While playwrights had distinct styles, subjects and perspectives, classic works in their original shape conformed to tacit rules of play.  Trends in the societal time were reflected in the text.  For example, Greek drama was closely associated with religion, with stories based on myth or history.  Medieval drama was dominated by religion but with little sense of history.  Theatre was banned in Scotland as early on as medieval times, the Catholic Church reacting against Court performances, pagan-derived folk plays, biblical enactments and festive pageantry. 

Moving on, it was not only Shakespeare that was productive in Elizabethan times. Sir David Lyndsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits was first performed before James V in 1540, providing an example of one of the theatrical fruits of that time.

Classical theatre in today's Scotland

Text-based theatre today - and even in its initial manifestation - does not exclude physical or visual elements. On the contrary classical theatre in Scotland today is noted for its diversity: in the variety of plays and adaptations; in the types of theatre and companies and in the range of audiences attracted.  Scottish directors are reworking and revitalizing classical texts in their individual styles.  Classical texts, across the field of interpretations, have mass appeal.

Nowadays, Scottish talent is revealed in full glory in adaptations that truly bring classics into a fresh light.  Greek drama 'permeates everywhere. It has played a pathfinding role in all types of theatre – experimental; student; festival and fringe; epic and classical; commercial'.  New adaptations and translations by contemporary playwrights are thriving.  Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan and Hector MacMillan are shaping 'classic canonical texts into the Scots languate, from Greek tragedy through Molière, Racine and Rostand to Chekhov and Dario Fo. Combining the demotic with the epic, the vigour of Scottish performance traditions with the plays’ essential timeless concerns, they also connect with several other themes of Scottish theatre history'. (Scotland Cultural Profile from Visiting Arts)

Scene from theatre babel's Hedda Gabler; Photo: Douglas McBride

Classical works are as alive as the avant-garde in this age.  Among the Scottish companies leading today’s audience in understanding and appreciating the resilient power of classic texts is theatre babel.  

Read more about the company in this month’s focus on theatre babel.

Classical theatre
* Profile - Graham McLaren
* Focus on - theatre babel
 
Related links
* Classical and Text-based Theatre and the British Council
 
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