Prometheus Bound

Old Queen’s Theatre, 120 Hereford St, Christchurch

09/12/2009 - 12/12/2009

Production Details



From December 9th to the 12th The Classics Department of the University of Canterbury is to present a production of Robin Bond’s new translation of the fifth century BC Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound. Robin is also directing the production, which will take place at Old Queens Theatre at the SW corner of Herford and Colombo Streets.

For many years the Prometheus Bound was attributed to Aeschylus, but modern scholarship will have it that this attribution is not correct. Be that as it may, this powerful play has become one of the most influential pieces of ancient drama in its impact upon the whole western tradition of art, literature and philosophy. One play surviving from a trilogy, the piece depicts the initial crucifixion of the culture hero, the Titan, Prometheus, on an icy mountain top in the Caucasus. He is punished in this way by the new-come ruler of the gods, Zeus, for having given the divine and civilizing power of fire to mere creatures of a day, to mortal men.

Prometheus is the archetypal tragic hero, noble and generous, yet also stubborn, proud and self-willed and punished for what his detractors and even his allies consider to be a fatal mistake, an excess of kind heartedness towards humankind. On his mountain peak Prometheus is visited in turn by a Chorus of sympathetic daughters of Okeanos, by the elder statesman Okeanos himself, intent on trying, though unsuccessfully, to heal the rift between Prometheus and Zeus, by Io, a human girl, the object of Zeus’ lust and so a fellow victim with Prometheus of Zeus’ uncontrolled emotions and, finally, by Hermes, Zeus’ messenger and lackey who threatens Prometheus with further dire punishment should he refuse to divulge what secret knowledge he possesses about the cosmic future and the threat to the rule of Zeus.

Through time Prometheus has been identified as a culture hero, to whom the figure of Maui provides a Polynesian parallel, as a romantic hero, the rugged individual confronting the hostile forces of nature and, indeed, as a Marxist hero, upholding and defending the rights of the common man. He is all and more than these things and the play, at once static and strangely dynamic, explores matters metaphysical and political and ethical which still resonate today in language at once grand and rhetorical, but compelling and clear.

The production will be presented by masked actors all of whom are either present or past members of the staff and student body of the University of Canterbury, with Gene Banyard in the title role. An impressive set has been designed and built by Richard Till. Movement coach, choreographer and producer is dancer Kate Hamilton, while music and sound effects are courtesy of Michael Summerfield and Nick Lynch.

Prometheus Bound
Old Queens Theatre at the SW corner of Herford and Colombo Streets
Wednesday Dec. 9 to Saturday Dec.12
$15.00(waged), $10.00 (unwaged).
Door sales


Dramatis Personae
Prometheus:  Gene Banyard
Hephaistos:  Isaac Freeman
Might:  James Milliken
Violence:  Sam Bonifacio
Okeanos:  Jim Tully
Io:  Tracy Scarrott
Hermes:  Dylan James
Chorus:  Kate Hamilton, Margaret Burrell, Helen Debenham, Rose Whitau, Amy Shirtliff and Chontelle Tuck.

Crew
Set:  Richard Till
Masks:  Vanessa Smith
Costumes:  Wendy Jagers and Cast
Lights:  Richard Jones
Music:  Michael Summerfield and Nick Lynch
Producer / Choreography:  Kate Hamilton



A strong message for a modern audience

Review by Lindsay Clark 13th Dec 2009

Across the gulf of time and culture from fifth century BC Greece to the no frills starkness of this inner city relic, the power of the playwright, whoever he was, (modern scholarship apparently now challenges the authorship of Aeschylus) still holds an audience and teases the mind.

Robin Bond has brought many a classic work to life for the contemporary stage and this production confirms the clarity of his expression as both wordsmith and director – a combination which the original playwright would himself have experienced. There is no interpretive shilly-shallying here. All is taut and forthright.

Simply set on Richard Till’s version of the orchestra of a Greek amphitheatre, with a raised focal platform and wooden scaffolding to suggest the rock face, the plight of the great Titan who incurred the wrath of Zeus through his favouring of humankind is presented with chorus and mask. Chained to his mountainside, Prometheus alone has a fully visible face and his torment is all the more clear.  

The form of the play is uncluttered. As the sole remaining part of a trilogy, it progresses through measured debate from the initial chaining of Prometheus to the rock where he will "burn black" as a reward for his "overweening tongue", to a series of interactions with characters who will provoke different insights into the focal material.

Humankind is the creature of a day, a frail scrap of mortality, but it has been invested with all the arts of civilisation by Prometheus and the consequences are to be explored and pondered.

A chorus of six daughters of the statesman Okeanus is followed by Okeanus himself and then Io, the hapless girl who was seduced by Zeus, suffering not only his lust but the vengeful spite of Hera to boot. Finally it is Hermes, messenger of the pitiless Zeus who arrives, not to announce peace but to threaten more pain if Prometheus refuses to share his secret and prophetic vision with the deity.  

An important support for both the setting and the abstracted ideas encountered is amply provided by music and sound effects (Michael Summerfield and Nick Lynch). Masks (Vanessa Smith) objectify and clarify the significance of their wearers who are often cleverly choreographed (Kate Hamilton) in stylised movement. Actors are all either past or present staff or students of the University.

The central role of Prometheus is well filled by a Christ-like Gene Banyard whose vocal power is able to sustain the heightened language of the piece. Programme notes remind that he is at once the archetypal romantic hero, resisting the superior power of a tyrant and from a Marxist perspective, the upholder of the struggle of the common man. He is also the bringer of hope and his catalogue of gifts to mankind reminds us of our privileged place in the universe, of the riches we inherit simply by being human.

The characters of the play are far removed from real life but they hold a strong message for a modern audience. 
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