KCL’s Greek Play: Euripides’ Alkesetis

Directed by Saara Salem and choreographed by Marcus Bell, KCL’s production of Euripides’ Alkesetis beautifully aestheticizes death, and the grief surrounding it and it is this which does justice to Alkestis’ noble and selfless love for her husband.

The play begins with the sound of cannons upon which the audience is introduced to the striking goddess Apollo. Played by Elinor Haskew, Apollo is dressed in a shimmering dress with golden face paint and we hear her recount how the Fates granted King Admetus the privilege of prolonging his life. However, this is contingent upon someone else sacrificing their life in exchange for the king’s. Such sacrifice is accepted by Alkestis, and it is then that Thanatos appears and foretells the death of the benevolent and youthful queen. After this overview, the play then moves from the heights of Mount Olympus to Admetus’ household where everyone is in mourning. A eulogy is given, lauding the young queen for her generosity and religious devotion in life. It is after this speech that the weak and pallid queen makes an appearance, gasping for breath she says her final farewell to her family and friends. After her death, she journeys through the recesses of hell where she joins Thanatos in his kingdom of the dead. Alkestis’ death is mourned and a funeral is held, where Admetus’ father makes an appearance, Admetus angry of his father’s refusal to relinquish his life for his curses at him and an antagonistic exchange takes place. His father refutes by claiming that Admetus is the real coward for his unwillingness to accept death. After the funeral, Hercules arrives and although still in mourning, Admetus readily welcomes him in without revealing that they are in mourning for his wife. Hercules, ignorant to everything, celebrates and creates a ruckus, when confronted by a servant and informed of the truth, he regrets his actions and brings Alkestis back to earth as penance for his disrespect.

Courtesy of KCL Greek play

The production manifested Alkestis’ journey to death beautifully. The harsh red lighting in the scene of the queen’s funeral conveyed the abrupt violence of death which prematurely took her life away. Alkestis’ last breath is hauntingly echoed by the chorus several times and this has a powerfully sombre effect. The chorus’ rhythmic dance successfully expresses Alkestis’ inexorable march to death, and the powerful militaristic orders made by the divinities which cannot be ignored. When Alkestis finally arrives at Thanatos’ threshold, the two engage in a sensual dance in which Alkestis alternatively gravitates and then drifts away from the lord of death, this effectively portrays the seductive pull of death, in which no one can escape from. This happens with Admetus frozen in the background, forced to spectate yet completely helpless and we too are forced to feel his immense grief.

 

Like always, death is often concomitant to grief and this was no different in the Greek play. Grief manifested itself in different ways which included a distressed soliloquy dedicated to Alkestis. Although from an unknown mourner, her touching description of Admentus’ benevolence and her utter grief which sees her knell to the ground makes her a pitiful sight. Admentus’ anguish is equally powerful, played by Oliver de Montfalcon, the actor sustained pained expressions and disbelief successfully articulates the sheer agony Admentus must have felt for his beloved wife. His hoarse voice and irascible attitude too conveys the woe felt by the king.

 

 

Tension in the highly charged atmosphere is increased through the dramatic irony of Hercules’ ignorance of Alkestis’ death. Performed by Marcus Hodson, Hercules provide moments of nervous comic relief, though the tension of grief is palpable. Juxtaposed against each other, this enables the stark grief to produce a more concentrated and sharper effect of gloom on the audience.

The Greek play magnificently aestheticizes the journey of death, especially one that befitted the famous and beautiful queen, Alkestis. It is impressive that something so abstract can be represented through the lighting, choreography, and acting in the play. The play also manifests grief through the actors’ and actresses’ sustained dramatic and passionate acting.

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