Alcestis

Every year, students at King’s College London perform a Greek play in the original language. This tradition has been going for several years and the plays always attract a big crowd. This year’s play, performed at the Greenwood Theatre, was Euripides’ Alcestis.

I arrived early for the pre-performance talk from Professor Edith Hall, which was an engaging and fascinating introduction to the play. Alcestis broke with tradition when it was first performed, being very different from the straight comedies usually delivered after the tragedies at the Greek theatre festival.

The play concerns King Admetus, who is due to die but who is able to carry on living so long as someone else agrees to die in his place. Admetus’ wife, Alcestis, agrees to die instead of him, and the play begins on the day of her death, with Admetus and the couple’s children displaying profound grief. In the midst of their mourning, Hercules turns up, and when he finds out what has happened he vows to go to the Underworld and bring Alcestis back.

Directed by Saara Salem, this was an interesting production which was easy to follow thanks to the English surtitles (no, in case you were wondering, I don’t know Ancient Greek). I was shocked at Admetus’ behaviour, while recalling that the play was written in a very different time: he is reluctant to tell Hercules that his wife is dead, because the Greek laws of hospitality require him to offer shelter. The piece was often very funny, and completely engaging.

Alcestis was a fascinating work and I particularly liked the adjusted ending to the production: it was very well staged and seemed incredibly fitting to a modern audience! The production was great fun and I would definitely return to see another Greek play at King’s next year.

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