Technical Crew Details:
Mike Briggs, David Frost,James Halford, Nicholas Hayley
Reviewed by G.M.P. For The Croydon Advertiser, Friday 3rd December 1971
No better formula for good drama could be offered than that suggested in the programme of Theatre Workshop Coulsdon’s variations on a Greek theme.
First choose a story, they say, then gather an audience, and then retell the story in as unusual and exciting a way as possible! I like the title they choose too; “Orestes What-You-M’Call-It.” (Flippant? Well wasn’t there a quite well-known dramatist who used “What you will” as a sub-title?)
The resultant entertainment was seen on Saturday at their Chipstead Valley Road headquarters and proved to be an experiment of the kind one would like to see more drama societies attempting by way of flexing their technique.
Roger Keightley, the director, had devised a two part, full length divertissement using 15 players, four musicians, and some atmospheric lighting to present the legend of Orestes and his family (I was going to write “his bloody relations,” for so they were, in all senses!). And to do it he dispensed with a written script and, indeed, with almost all spoken words except the characters’ names. In the best tradition of ritualistic drama (i.e. the Greek one he was working with) he had a chorus, but in the best interest of creative theatre he used it in an untraditional way.
Like Peter Brook (but, be it noted, I am not otherwise comparing them) Mr Leightley is interested in the possibilities of sounds issuing from human throats that are not words as such, and in movements that are more expressive than the limited vocabulary of everyday walking, sitting and so on.
Occasionally ingenuity was taxed too far and he had to fall back on such devices as the actor who announced “I…” and then made the accepted mime for slitting a throat in order to explain he had murdered someone, but, for the most part it was remarkable how much the cast conveyed by giving emotional inflections to names, uttering shrieks or groans, or providing the hiss of water round a boat.
I suppose it was a bit of a cheat to include in the programme a synopsis of the complicated plot. However, since this included the births of Electra, Iphigenia and Orestes; the infidelities of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and Menelaus and Helen; the Trojan war; Orestes’ visit to the Delphic Oracle; his killing of Clytemnestra and her lover; and his ultimate harrying by the Furies for thus murdering his mother…phew! – are you still with me?…Since, as I say, all these things had to be conveyed by such unconventional means, and as it couldn’t be assumed that all the audience would be familiar with this Ancient Greek Royal Razzmatazz, some briefing was essential.
What struck me especially was the eloquence and vitality of the faces of the company. Anyone who believes modern youth apathetic should have taken a look at these alert, attractive, expressive visages, and watched the confidence and authority with which they used movement, from regal gestures of command to more fantastic inventions like the weaving flight of the avenging Furies (accompanied by the baleful sound of whip-cracking from the chorus) or the Eastern mystical stance, on one leg, of the Sybil.
Incidentally the Erinyes were effectively dressed in simple black wing-like garments, the rest in jeans, T-shirts and similar casual modern dress. While not advocating an expensive excursion into elaborate costume, I think the experiment would have gained from “dressing up.”
It would be invidious to select any of these players for separate mention since what we saw was a wholly successful corporate enterprise. Those taking part were Chris Argles, Jane Briggs, Nick Burton, Marion Cope, Diana Hewitt, Mark Langstone, Lesley Quin, Rosemary Quin, Rosemary Smyter, Fay Smith, Sue Pinkstone, Marie-Pierre Thiemontez, Peter Tyerman, Graham Webb and Tess Young. They were provided with an appropriate and imaginative musical accompaniment by Mike Briggs, David Frost, James Halford and Nicholas Hayley, of whom the violinist did an especially good job.