Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Amanda Gaughan Directs Hecuba in Dundee

When theatre director Amanda Gaughan looked at her TV screen recently, 
the news agenda was dominated by global warfare. This seemed to have 
been a permanent fixture, Gaughan observed, even before two hi-jacked 
aeroplanes flew into the World Trade Centre's twin towers in New York 
more than a decade ago, changing the world forever. All the more 
reason, then, to revive Hecuba, Euripides' classic fourth century BC 
anti-war play. Set after the Trojan War but before the Greeks have left 
Troy, Hecuba charts how the play's eponymous former queen of the now 
fallen city exacts a terrible revenge following the death of her 
daughter, Polyxena, and the murder of her son, Polydoros.

“We're living in a world today where a lot of terrible crimes against 
humanity are taking place,” Gaughan observes, “particularly in the 
Middle East. That was the case as well with the Greeks, so they used 
myths to illustrate this and to comment on what was going on in 

With this in mind, Gaughan has opted to use a version of the play 
penned by Frank McGuinness a decade ago, when the aftermath of 9/11 was 
still fresh in the collective psyche. This allows Gaughan to work with 
something that is both classical and contemporary in its construction 
and execution.

“The text is brilliant,” Gaughan affirms. “Frank's written such a 
strong and illuminating version of the play He's written it in 
semi-contemporary language, and pared things right back, so it's very 
exposing, with no fluff around the action, and in a way that makes 
things much more accessible to the ear.”

One of the more striking features of Gaughan's production should come 
in its appearance. Rather than use the full sweep of Dundee Rep's 
auditorium, Gaughan has opted to put the audience onstage, where they 
will watch the action in a purpose-built construction that contains 
both them and the performers. Such an intimate approach has been 
something of a calling card for Gaughan, ever since she directed a 
claustrophobic version of Dennis Kelly's psycho-sexual thriller, After 
The End, in the up close and personal environs of the Citizens 
Theatre's Circle Studio. Gaughan directed the equally intense Roman 
Bridge, by Martin Travers, for the National Theatre of Scotland.

“I don't want to create a distance,” Gaughan says of her decision on 
how to stage Hecuba. “The Rep's got this gorgeous auditorium, but using 
that would have meant having to change the playing style and do 
everything so much bigger. By bringing the audience onstage and 
watching the action from three sides it creates a much more intimate 
and at times voyeuristic feel,so at times the audience are complicit 
with the action. At times it's so small and tender, and at other times 
you wonder whether we should be watching this, because the characters 
are so full of grief.”

If there is a dark thread running through much of Gaughan's work, it's 
not deliberate, but is more to do with a professional curiosity about 
“situations that aren't black and white, and which ask how we got 
ourselves in a particular position.”

Gaughan has recently branched out into musicals with young company, 
Noisemaker, on a show called Forest Boy, and into opera with Johnny 
McKnight on Last One Out. Given that the former was based on a real 
story about a boy who may or may not have lived in the wild, while the 
latter was set and performed in a lighthouse in Fraserburgh, darkness 
and claustrophobia remain on her agenda.

“I like to think of myself as a nice happy person,” Gaughan laughs, 
“but I suppose I'm interested in a theatre of conflict. With Hecuba 
we've been looking at what's going on in Syria and Egypt quite a lot, 
and one of the things I'm interested in is that this cycle of violence 
will never end. It all comes down to why the Greeks made theatre, which 
was to reflect what was going on in society at the time, and to reflect 
on how a war can change people. For me, it's about going, okay, this is 
a Greek myth, we're creating a piece of theatre and aren't actually in 
a dangerous situation, but let's think about the wars that are going on 
now. I'm sitting in Dundee, and all these terrible things are going on 
in the world right now. Theatre cam make you look at that. It brings 
current situations to the fore, and makes us question our humanity, and 
what our responsibilities are.”

Hecuba, Dundee Rep, October 17th-26th

The Herald, October 15th 2013


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