Last Thursday I went to see some fabulous and free outdoor theatre in the heart of London Bridge. Every August since 2002, a fabulous theatre group named Gods and Monsters has performed classical Greek and Roman theatre at the Scoop, London’s free outdoor amphitheatre. The Scoop is surrounded by precarious looking glass offices, and is right next to the river Thames and Tower Bridge.
Because of its location many people stumble upon it by chance and have the option of taking some time to enjoy free entertainment, and because it is free it can encourage people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre to come and see these performances and benefit from them, because theatre is good for the soul and everyone should be able to see it.
The Scoop is used all year round as a space for free music, drama and dance shows; years ago when I was fifteen I performed at the Scoop as part of a youth dance performance with Laban, its a great space that visitors can just come along to without needing to worry about booking, and if you have a spare evening you should come down to London Bridge and see what’s going on, find out more at http://www.morelondon.com/
Every August theatre company Gods and Monsters are able to stage, with the help of their sponsors and audience donations,two plays adapted from Ancient Greece and Rome, one is often a light hearted family friendly comedy, and the other tends to be a Greek tragedy. This year the comedy was Captain Show Off!, which was about two long lost twin brothers who end up in the same town and get mistaken for each other, often with extreme and humerus consequences. It featured musical theatre and live music, S&M and two gloriously chavvy slaves called the Shiftichics who were working for ‘Wonga’, a Roman loan shark. It was very tongue in cheek, set in the town square of ‘Tescgoss’ in the province of ‘Ev’ryliddle-helps’ and was full of these not so subtle cultural references, but it was also interesting as it was adapted from the Roman comedies of author Plautus, and under all the farce it serves to remind us that situation comedies haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years, and that we have quite a lot more in common with the Romans than we may think.
The Scoop is an outdoor theatre, and we were unfortunately reminded of that when it started to rain and we had to huddle under our umbrellas and hope for the best, and although the performance had to stop until the rain lifted I was really impressed by the level of professionalism of the actors who gave no indication they noticed the rain and carried on in high spirits, despite the fact they must have been very cold and wet. The weather cleared up, however, and we got to see a very happy ending for all the plays characters, most who end up getting married. Slightly un-realistic, but very cheerful and energetic, the first play was great for all members of the family and put the audience in a good mood.
A mood that would be shattered an hour later in the second play Women of Troy, which was adapted from the several plays on the subject written by Euripides, who in turn was inspired by the Illiad. The play was split into two parts, the first centring around the Greeks before the Trojan war and the second focusing on the ruins of Troy and the fate of the women after the Greek victory. Both parts focused on the female characters, and the horrors that war can inflict upon them, and how they may deal with it. The director of Gods and Monsters states in the Programme that he aims to each year showcase an ancient play that has current significance, and Women of Troy was chosen to reflect the women that are currently in war town countries. The play was atmospheric; even though there were few props the darkening sky (the play started at 8pm and its getting uncomfortably close to Autumn) mixed with the stage lighting and occasional live music created a natural gloomy setting, and the actors did the rest. It was a depressing, upsetting and gut wrenching play, but it was also gripping, engaging and compelling and I would recommend it to anyone who can handle some Game of Thrones style tragedy for two and a half hours straight.
The play starts with an introduction by Helen of Troy (impressively played by Emily Sitch) who is the reason for the war as she ran away from her Greek husband Melaneus with a handsome Trojan prince. Emily Sitch portrayed her in a really interesting way, Helen is sometimes seen as a victim in the story but she came across here as a shallow, vain and un-interested individual who doesn’t seem to notice or care the turmoil in Troy’s aftermath except where she is explicitly concerned, you find yourself really hating her and getting annoyed that she is the only one who will have any resemblance of a ‘happy ending’, and any actor who can have that effect is very talented in my book.
The Greeks are enraged, and the only thing that was stopping them from launching into a full on attack is that their is no wind to sail their ships, and apparently the only way to appeal to the gods and change the weather is for Helen’s husbands brother, and the king Agamemmnon to sacrifice his eldest daughter, the innocent and childlike Iphigenia. This part of the play was incredibly moving and disturbing in equal measures, and the strong, emotional and convincing performance by actress Hannah Kerin had me hooked for the next act.
The next act introduces the Greeks deception and defeat of the Trojans with the use of the famous Trojan horse trick, and shows the women of troy in anguish. Their husbands and sons have been killed, and they are about to be shipped off to Greece to be slaves and concubines for their husbands murderers. In their time of need they turn to Queen Hecuba, the mother of recently deceased Paris (Helens ‘abductor’), but she has problems of her own when she discovers that the treacherous Calchus, a merchant who has flitted between sides throughout the play killed her last surviving son when the Trojans started to lose the war. Maddened with grief, she and the other women trick the merchant to bring his sons and go on an adventure for treasure, which ends in Calchus being blinded and all his sons being murdered, an act that is barbaric, but weirdly understandable in the circumstances.
The women of Troy continue to suffer. Their remaining children are murdered to stop the bloodline, and all the while they wait their enslavement. The actors gave emotional performances which invoked horror at the idea of having to serve those who killed your families and Hecuba suggests what is in store in the future when she states that the women of Troy would not forget, that they will have their revenge and the war is not really over. It was a troubling and addictive play, and it definitely inspired me to learn more about Troy, Euripides and Ancient Greece.
This is theatre you would pay to see, and the fact that you can just stumble upon it shows how diverse and exciting entertainment can be in London. Check them out and come along to one of their performances next year, bring tissues, cushions and a pillow and get ready for a theatrical roller-coaster, you might even learn something.