From September to November, no fewer than four major productions of Greek drama have been mounted on London stages: David Greig’s much acclaimed The Bacchae (the highlight of this summer’s Edinburgh Festival) at the Lyric Hammersmith; Seamus Heaney’s version of Sophocles’ Antigone, The Burial at Thebes at the Barbican (the Nottingham Playhouse production, also touring to Oxford as part of the Onassis Programme); Blake Morrison’s version of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Lisa’s Sex Strike at the Greenwich Theatre as part of a national tour; and later this month, at the Royal National Theatre, Women of Troy directed by Katie Mitchell, an eagerly anticipated event after her earlier high-profile productions of the Oresteia and Iphigenia at Aulis. If four productions don’t already constitute a veritable embarras de richesses, the really dedicated fan of Greek drama could take a train trip to Cambridge to see Medea performed in ancient Greek at the Arts Theatre (following in the footsteps of the chattering classes of the 1880s and 1890s, who caught one of the extra trains that were laid on from King’s Cross to meet the demand for this triennial theatrical event). The Cambridge Greek play is no amateur affair; and this year, it has again benefited from the expertise of the veteran director of Greek drama, Annie Castledine (the National Theatre’s Women of Troy, 1995, and the Cambridge Arts Theatre’s Oedipus the King, 2004).
Since the 1960s there has been an explosion in the number of performances of ancient plays not just in Europe, but increasingly across the globe – in Asia, Latin America and Africa. In many ways, Goldhill’s new book is a response to this phenomenon. As he explains, directors or actors