Over 1000 people passed through the gates of the Greek Theatre to view the triumphant return of Alcestis, the College’s 40th Greek Play, across the performances on four glorious summer days, ensuring Euripides’ memorial does indeed live on.

Euripides’ tragedy was the first Greek play performed at Bradfield in 1882 when then Headmaster and Warden, Dr Herbert Gray, staged the production in the Dining Hall. It was described in Ancient Greek texts as a play ‘rather like a satyricon’ because it ‘ends on a note of delight and pleasure’. It is fitting then that the 2019 Alcestis is the first production in the 21st Century which brings the play back into the triennial cycle with Oxford and Cambridge Greek plays, a cycle which originally began 137 years ago.


The plaudits must go to Head of Classics and Director of the play, Polly Caffrey, alongside all those who worked incredibly hard behind the scenes, whose eye for detail and originality went above and beyond, ensuring that the tradition of performing the play in its original language continued.

As an homage to Bradfield Greek Plays of the past, Polly ensured that the skene was decorated to look like a tomb complete with the inscription ‘Your Memorial, Euripides, will never die.’ This particular tomb was inspired by the iconic facade of a royal Macedonian tomb in the Archaeological Museum of Pella.

The same level of detail also went into the costume design. The long-sleeved tunics and chlamys worn by the Chorus were appropriate to the senior Thessalian citizens, while Apollo’s white and gold garments set him apart from earthly mortals. Thanatos, Death himself, was dressed in long sweeping garments, signifying his refined role of taking but a single soul rather than appearing as was tradition with his tunic kilted up to workman-like length to take souls away to the underworld.

Twenty pupils, many from the younger years, brought Polly’s vision to life, impressively learning lines in an entirely new language. They worked so hard over the first half of the year to deliver a stirring performance in the language, rhythms and music of Classical Greek, a superb achievement at any stage of their studies.

The senior pupils shone in their principal roles. Jack Connell’s (F) Pheres performed with conviction and intensity during his debate with Jack’s (F) Admetus who in turn showed artistic versatility to go from heated argument to harmonic duet alongside Cecilia (K) in the titular role of Alcestis.

Thomas (C) (Death) and Jack (E) (Apollo) opened proceedings with a confident duologue while Maria (I) (Therapaina), Matthew (E) (Heracles) and George (H) (Butler) also delivered excellent monologues.

A talented Chorus, many of whom were in Faulkner’s and the Shell, supported them. Lottie, Katie, Lara and Misho gave distinguished vocal performances, displaying the benefits of the hard work put in by themselves and by the Music Department. The Chorus had worked tirelessly on the newly-composed sections of the play and excelled in the Kommos, presented as a portrait of despair and grief through the imaginative deployment of Phrygian and ancient Mixolydian “harmonai”, helping the audience understand Admetus’ full realisation of the extent of his loss.


The new music composed specifically for this production was created by Professor Armand D’Angour and Barnaby Brown with support from the University of Oxford’s Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund. Barnaby was ever-present each evening, appearing on stage as the musician and leading the Chorus throughout the performance.

Professor D’Angour, Associate Professor in Classical Languages and Literature at Jesus College, Oxford, reconstructed the solo songs and Kommos which were accompanied by a reconstructed double aulos and transverse flute, played by Barnaby. The original aulos was found at Megara on the south coast of Attica and is believed to have been made in the 4th century BC, and made from tibia bones and bronze. It was the first time this instrument had accompanied a Greek play since the Classical period. The College is hugely grateful to the duo, who were quoted as saying the experience helped break new ground in the understanding of Classical Greek culture, and to the University of Oxford’s Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund for supporting the production of scores and rehearsal mp3s.

Each show was preceded by an introductory talk. Alongside Professor D’Angour and Barnaby Brown, talks were given by Patrick Finglass, currently Head of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Bristol, as well as Old Bradfieldian Julian Spencer (D 70-74), who was most recently Head of Classics at Winchester.

The College would also like to acknowledge the generous support of The Roger Lancelyn Green Memorial Trust whose ongoing assistance with Classical Greek Plays at Bradfield continues to bear outstanding results.

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