A classic retold...

The Inner Temple recently put on a rehearsed reading of “Theseus & the Minotaur – What Really Happened”. The playwright, Andrew Caldecott QC, explains the background and the play’s narrator, Nigel Pascoe QC, discusses his experience

Q: Andrew, how does the play treat the legend?

AC: The central conceit is that the traditional version of the story was created by Theseus himself for his own glorification. He is ambitious for fame and has superficial bravado, but is underneath a physical and moral coward.

In the labyrinth it is Ariadne who kills the Minotaur as an act of mercy (he is her half-brother, don’t forget) and who is then abandoned by Theseus on Naxos as an inconvenient witness to what happened.

The lowering of the black sail on Theseus’ return is likewise a deliberate ploy to provoke the suicide of his father and to make the story more memorable for posterity – news management in modern jargon. 

Other themes include how decent people may become fundamentalists and how Crete – an insignificant island of potters at the beginning of the play – come to be radicalised and to defeat the mighty Greeks.

The play also has its own take on Daedalus and Icarus.

Q: Has the play been performed before and how did the Inner Temple come to put it on?

AC: An earlier (and inferior) version of the play had a public reading at the Hampstead Theatre in 2009, directed by Timothy West, who read King Minos in this production.

As to the Inn’s involvement, that is down to the enthusiasm of the Inner Temple’s 2010 Treasurer, Lord Justice Laws, for the performance of a piece with a classical theme during his tenure.

Q: Why write plays?

AC: Part pragmatic – they are shorter and take less time to write than a novel, and you are spared the burden of description. It may also be that barristers by nature see truth through spoken narrative and dialogue. I enjoy the collaborative aspect. You are alone for the first part of the process, but in company, if not the back seat, for the second.

I suppose I also see it as a way of taking the less forensic lobe of the brain to the gym.

Q: What are the plusses and minuses of plays in general and rehearsed readings in particular?

AC: The obvious minus is that a play is only fully realised by performance. You can give friends your new novel to read. Publication is a question of scale and not integral to the art form.

Plays are written to be performed rather than heard, and to be heard rather than read on the page. Yet everything that makes a play a rewarding collaborative venture also makes it expensive and, most likely, unprofitable. You learn to regard full production when it happens as a bonus.
As to directed rehearsed readings before an audience, they have much to be said for them.

They put pressure on the text and on the actors in a constructive way. They do ask more of the audience, who have no visuals to aid the suspension of belief and who inevitably take time to adjust to an actor with script in hand. But adjust they usually do.

In this case I was fortunate to have the generous support of both my Inn and the solicitors, Farrer & Co, and to have an exceptional director and cast as well as the wise counsel throughout of Timothy West.

Q: Did you act yourself?

AC: I acted in OUDS and the then Oxford equivalent of the Cambridge Footlights, but with little distinction.
I recall auditioning immediately after a then unknown Mel Smith and discovering in minutes the painful difference between being funny and trying to be funny. Acting was not the way forward.

Q: How do you find the time?

AC: I don’t play golf.

Q: Nigel, what was it like to be involved in the reading?

NP: For the Bar actors, Tony Arlidge, Jonathan Reuben and Richard Tutt, it was a chance to join an exceptional cast of outstanding professionals, led by Timothy West.

I will not conceal the fear, but the excellent director, Natascha Metherell, made us feel at home and the cast were universally friendly.

Static at the lectern, I had the chance to absorb the audience reaction. Interest and some knowledge of the legend developed into an intense fascination with the script. They seem to be hooked. Their final reaction was extremely enthusiastic and particularly towards the author, sitting with the director in the gallery.

Rehearsals had been fun. The author may own up to some perfectionist tendencies, so there was constructive and collaborative re-writing on the hoof. Nobody minded.

One of the hidden surprises for me in writing is the improvement in rehearsal brought by intelligent actors to the lines. By the end, my only uncertainty was whether the audience would pick up all the jokes. Later they saw most of them.

All of this encourages me to think that Andrew Caldecott QC has written an exceptional play. It is not simply what he calls the conceit at its heart which gives it the flavour at times of a classical thriller. There are relationships developed with great subtlety. I particularly appreciated the master/servant relationship between Theseus (a charismatic Harry Hadden-Paton) and his secretary Bobolas, interpreted with great subtlety and downtrodden humour by Tony Arlidge. Overall the author had a cast capable of doing him justice.

There was an extraordinary burden placed on Ariadne to develop and mature in front of us. It provided a huge opportunity for Lydia Wilson who only left RADA last year. Watching her dynamism, force of personality and emotional maturity convinced me that she will be a quite exceptional actress.
Pasiphae, Queen of Crete, was in the safe hands of Geraldine Alexander. Her bloodcurdling scream in the course of a somewhat unorthodox pregnancy left little to the imagination.

Timothy West remains a fantastic actor, not least in the beautiful and moving final speech.

Readings are great vehicles for new plays. If they are done simply, they can work on the imagination of the audience without a bull in sight or even the suspicion of a labyrinth.

Long may the Inns encourage them to continue.

 

Andrew Caldecott QC and Nigel Pascoe QC are both Benchers of Inner Temple.

 

speaking to different ages

Re-telling classic tales to speak to different ages is what myth is about, writes Lord Justice Laws. It is why they contain a species of truth, even if the described events never happened (not that I would suggest such a thing of “Theseus & the Minotaur”). The Greek myths are especially amenable to this benign if unscientific process: think of Tennyson’s wonderful poem “Ulysses”. They spread the origins of our culture before us; they show how paper-thin are the walls between the then, the now and the yet to come. Andrew Caldecott QC’s play is a splendid instance.

For it to have been performed in the Inner Temple during my year as Treasurer, and with such a stellar cast led by Timothy West, has given me many satisfactions. It has fed my love of the classics; more important, it is what the Inn should be doing as a place of sound and patient learning; and because it was such fun, it shows the Inn also as a place of good fellowship.

Lord Justice Laws, 2010 Master Treasurer of Inner Temple.

 

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