University companies cover classics

Feb 25 2013 | By More

Coriolanus and King Arthur on stage this week

Rehearsal shot from Edinburgh Studio Opera's production King Arthur at Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

Katrina Nimmo (left) and Angela Estrada in Edinburgh Studio Opera’s King Arthur. Rehearsal pic © Rosie Curtis.

By Thom Dibdin

A pair of under-performed classics from either end of the 17th century are to get rare performances from Edinburgh University companies this week.

The Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s production of Coriolanus is at the Pleasance. Edinburgh Studio Opera will be staging three performances of Henry Purcell’s King Arthur at the Canongate Kirk.

William Watt, director of Coriolanus, told the Annals that: “the EUSC are paying homage to the brilliance of Shakespeare’s original text while bringing something fresh to it through its adaptation to a 1980s setting, amidst political upheaval and social strife.”

Written around 1608, the play concerns the fortunes of Caius Martius, a champion of Rome who is famed for his disdain of populism. Just as his life of service to his city finally appears to be rewarded, he fails to get popular acclaim and is exiled. Although one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, its foundation in Roman history makes it less transparent to modern audiences.

Watt believes that by setting the production in the 80s and appropriating the visuals of the time, it will create a better understanding of the various dynamics that exist in the play. Notably, concepts such as Roman tribunes and customs of the position of consul.

He adds: “The delicate selection of clothing – and projected riots scenes to replace physical battles – brings the ancient Roman-Volscian conflict closer to home; the idea of two neighbours at war emulating political conflicts of the twentieth century.

“EUSC’s production is a dynamic and striking adaptation of this historical tale, one that draws more sympathy towards Martius and the journey he endures.”

Down the hill  ESO have chosen a remarkably suitable venue for their production of Purcell’s King Arthur. The building of the current Canongate Kirk was completed in 1691, the year that the semi-opera had its first performance.

King Arthur, Together with Sundry Other Musick from the Genius of Mr Henry Purcell

The opera is essentially a tragicomedy with four or five long musical interludes. As is usual for the semi-opera form, the main protagonists all speak their parts while the music is performed by the minor characters. It concerns battles between the King Arthur’s Britons and the Saxons, led by Oswald, who have control of Kent. Treacherous Oswald kidnaps Arthur’s betrothed, but is eventually defeated. Whereupon good King Arthur magnanimously forgives the Saxons, but keeps control of a now united the country.

According to ESO, who are calling the production King Arthur, Together with Sundry Other Musick from the Genius of Mr Henry Purcell: “With Purcell’s sublime solo and choral writing intermingled with gorgeous dance music, the richly varied score blends wonderfully with the poetic lyrics of John Dryden.

“Coming as it does at the end of an Olympic year and at the start of another with a Scottish referendum, this lively and imaginative production explores what being British means today through humour, wit and exquisite musicality!”


Coriolanus: Pleasance Theatre, The Pleasance, Wed 27 Feb – Sat 2 March 2013. Daily, 7.30pm. Tickets from the XTS pro website.

King Arthur: Canongate Kirk, 153 Canongate. Wed 27 Feb, Fri 1/Sat 2 March. 7.30pm. Tickets from the XTS pro website.


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