Aristophanes’ Birds is one of the theatrical works analysed in CL1004: Myth and Community in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture. Being a student who happens to be enrolled in CL1004 (who also happens to be a fan of most things ancient), I thought it fit that I should buy the £6 ticket and attend the opening show last Saturday.
My assumptions are rather pessimistic when it comes to modern adaptations of ancient plays. With this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find what was, in my mind, a fairly authentic modernisation. Some of the references and jokes were brought into the modern age in order for it to be more relatable and I found that it worked really quite well. A good balance was struck between being sticking to the original script – in which case only Classicists will understand what is going on – and being too liberal in making changes, where you lose the attention of anyone with a semblance of respect for the ancient work. I was especially pleased to find the chorus intact, a tricky part of Greek theatre to portray in an adaptation. It was also good to see the costuming (Freya Upton) and makeup (Samantha Chinomona) done in a manner more original to what Aristophanes would have had in mind.
Moving to the spoken, I was again largely without complaint for the first half of the performance. Alex Schellekens (Peisetairos) and Adam Spencer (Euelpides) did an good job in grabbing the attention of the audience at the start of the play and keeping it throughout the entirety of their performance. Both truly brought Aristophanes’ work to life with their tone of voice, movements, and expressions. Schellekens and Spencer had good chemistry on stage, doing well in portraying Peisetairos and Euelpides as a realistic friendship in an otherwise fantastical story. Along the same lines, the performances of Naphysa Awuah (Roadrunner/Chorus) and Alice Robson (Hoopoe/Chorus) were also of note, especially in how they portrayed the twitchy essence of the birds. Of further accommodation was Awuah’s portrayal of the Roadrunner: her craning and lurching movements did much to create an image of a real, untamed bird. Finally, the chorus largely did a fine job throughout the first half, but in general there was little exceptional to note. That being said, there were minor instances of awkward pauses in which actors were struggling to recall their lines or where the chorus lacked coordination in their dancing and chanting. In the second half, the errors became more frequent and much more pronounced, but I personally did not find any of them to be so great as to majorly interrupt the viewers experience. These errors were also partially made up for by the performances of Juliet Boobyer, Tom Hodson, and Henry Waterson — which, I felt, were engaging and lent much to the performance.
Overall, I enjoyed the play: it was modernised in a tasteful manner and much of the acting was acceptable, if not good or better. The failings, however, cannot be ignored. Having considered that, I would say that Birds was worthy of attendance and was an enjoyable adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy.