Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction – David Wiles

10 Oct

  Expanding my knowledge of everything and anything has always been high on my list of things that I enjoy immensely, higher even, than pretending to be a munchkin with the aid of a helium balloon,  playing Pooh sticks and most importantly mullet spotting. So this book was a bit of a wild stab in the dark for me.

Like so many good books that I have purchased over the years, this one stayed in the shadows like a cunningly concealed ninja waiting to strike.  It was after I realised that although I own some of the great old world tragedians, (Euripides and Aeschylus) that I actually had no sense of the Greek theatre as a medium, that I was smote the dolorous blow by said ninja book.

First off this book is immediately accessible to anyone, even the least knowledgeable about Greek plays. There are pictures too, everyone loves pictures.

Context is key to understanding anything and although this book is short, numbering only 240 (well thumbed) pages. There are chapters on the politics of the time, on ritual, religion, myth and a general grounding of what life was like back then.

From there we are treated to many varying chapters, my personal favourite was on the use of space.  It was rare for a stage to have props so from all the minimalism it was essential to be able to maximise the imaginative content for the audience. Mainly this one done with prompts about things that were present that the audience would then imagine.

The roles and sexual politics of the actors are gone into in some depth, it is also extremely fascinating to learn about how actors manipulated their whole bodies to convey various emotions as the masks they wore were set to one emotion.  It’s little distinctions like that that make the plays feel richer and more challenging than more modern plays.

The architecture of the amphitheatre was also key, for it has to be designed in such a way that the acoustics would travel to the whole audience to hear, as the structures were open air and would sometimes take a whole day to perform. The alfresco nature of the performances meant that the setting/rising sun and other such effects could be used as symbols and be timed to give the play a more real feel.  They would also use historical and mythical references that to us may be a tad oblique but would be instantly recognisable and conceptualizing for the audience of the day.

There is also a look at variants on plays as performed in ancient Greece and also the modern takes, that invite a new generation to experience some of the most famous of world stories, and how they have been adapted to appeal.  So, all in all, a comprehensive starter book, with a very readable style, that will bring to life the great tragedies of the fifth century BC.


Posted by on 10/10/2012 in History, Plays


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5 responses to “Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction – David Wiles

  1. letizia

    10/10/2012 at 15:13

    “in the shadows like a cunningly concealed ninja waiting to strike” I just love that line!


    • StetotheJ

      10/10/2012 at 16:12

      There goes my active mind again. I put this in, in place of the usual blatant pun that normally appears.


      • letizia

        10/10/2012 at 18:25

        And it goes so well with the cover of the book!


  2. pennycoho

    15/10/2012 at 04:30

    Nicely done. Very nicely done, Ninja statement not withstanding, however Letizia liked it and she’s way cool so I’m good with it after all! Just an excellent review that enjoyed!


    • StetotheJ

      15/10/2012 at 13:13

      I was wearing black that day and so a ninja statement had to be there in the offing, no question.



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