Patrick Maguire was on cloud nine with the latest Greek Play
UCL’s annual Greek Play has, for many years, given generations of weary A-Level Classicists an excuse for the day off. Judged on the basis of Thursday’s matinee performance, 2014 certainly won’t go down that year where even Sir fell asleep, or worse than that one where Oedipus blinding himself was the funniest bit. The Classical Drama Society have honed an entertaining and engaging production of rollicking Aristophanes comedy Clouds that would be consummately fantastic, were it not for a few niggles.
The play follows the efforts of the desperate Strepsiades to clear his household of his son Pheidippides’ gambling debts, with a little help from Socrates, his students at the Thinkstitute and a chorus of cloud goddesses. Felix Medd is perfectly cast as Strepsiades, assuredly balancing the character’s neuroses, dry wit and physicality to turn in a performance that is as warm as it is impressive. Similarly, Dominic Hauschild as Socrates was everything that he should have been – a heady mix of slapstick, lofty overtones and eccentricity. Having that said, there were certainly moments when both play and actor could have done with a Socrates less frantic and more subdued. Admittedly, this is a minor criticism, as for the most part Hauschild does an excellent job of bringing the merciless satire on Socrates and contemporary philosophy to life – just one example of how the production overcomes some of the challenges of working with a text that’s over two thousand years old.
Directors Joao Francisco Fisher and Kyriaki Ioannidou treat this ancient source material not with terrified reverence but with a respectful artistic confidence. Cleverly staged – the chorus of the Clouds make their entry onto the balcony of the Bloomsbury’s upper circle, and the Arguments enter via a slanging match in the stalls – their thoughtful use of the venue pays dividends and injects the verve and vitality that the play deserves. Choruses are rarely used well in modern productions of classical drama, which makes this production’s use of 11 actors who embellish its story with song (intentionally or not, often off-key and dodgy singing is a funny and welcome addition), dance and hilarious moments of physical comedy all the more impressive.
The same must be said of all the supporting characters, and this is a cast that is strong and able across the board – though Francesca Petrizzo’s Pheidippides wasn’t as strong a foil to Medd’s Strepsiades as it ought to have been. Mimed vignettes, ad-libbing and audience interaction (as well as a massive fake penis and a rubber chicken) added depth and colour to the humour, and, like the chorus, felt essential rather than superfluous. Even sly references from Medd to the Bloomsbury’s fire exits and Nick Clegg didn’t feel out of place or contrived, which is testament to the strength of the comic tone.
The set and ancient Greek costume look good, the original score sounds great, and the play is accessible, entertaining and very, very funny. It is as crude and crass as it is wry and satirical, which is one of the best things about it. The first half did drag a little, and as a whole the play might benefit from some light husbandry and a few further edits to deal with occasional lapses in quality and clarity. This aside, Fisher and Ioannidou’s brave decision to set the play in the 5th Century Athens where it was first performed pays off – this well-produced, well-acted and intelligent comedy goes above and beyond what you’d expect of a student production, and worth a lot more than a six quid ticket.
The UCL Classical Drama Society’s production of ‘Clouds’ is at the Bloomsbury today at 2:30pm and tonight at 7:30pm.