THE TROJAN WOMEN
Writing of The Trojan Women, Professor Gilbert Murray says: "Judged by common Standards, the Troädes is far from a perfect play; it is scarcely even a good play. It is an intense study of one great situation, with little plot, little construction, little or no relief or variety. The only movement of the drama is a gradual extinguishing of all the familiar lights of human life, with, perhaps, at the end, a suggestion that in the utterness of night, when all fears of a possible worse thing are passed, there is in some sense peace and even glory. But the situation itself has at least this dramatic value, that it is different from what it seems.
"The consummation of a great conquest, a thing celebrated in paeans and thanksgivings, the very height of the day-dreams of unregenerate man — it seems to be a great joy, and it is in truth a great misery. It is conquest seen when the thrill of battle is over, and nothing remains but to wait and think. We feel in the background the presence of the conquerors, sinister and disappointed phantoms ; of the conquered men, after long torment, now resting in death. But the living drama for Euripides lay in the conquered women. It is from them that he has named his play and built up his scheme of parts: four figures clearly lit and heroic, the others in varying grades of characterisation, nameless and barely articulate, mere half-heard voices of an eternal sorrow.
"Indeed, the most usual condemnation of the play is not that it is dull, but that it is too harrowing; that scene after scene passes beyond the due limits of tragic art. There are points to be pleaded against this criticism. The very beauty of the most fearful scenes, in spite of their fearfulness, is one; the quick comfort of the lyrics is another, falling like a spell of peace when the strain is too hard to bear. But the main defence is that, like many of the greatest works of art, the Troädes is something more than art. It is also a prophecy, a bearing of witness. And the prophet, bound to deliver his message, walks outside the regular ways of the artist."
With these words we are content to leave the play with you, hoping that those who witness our performance may find, too, that quality of beauty which permeates the whole play—and carry away with them the remembrance of some moment—however fleeting —
" Even as the sound of a song
Left by the way, but long
Remembered, a tune of tears
Falling where no man hears
In the old house as rain . . . "
What will be the form of the playhouse of tomorrow? He would he a rash man who would venture to prophesy too far, but one thing at least seems certain: if the theatre is to be an expression of its time, as it surely must, then the playhouse of to-day, which in all its essentials is the playhouse of the latter part of the nineteenth century, must undergo something in the nature of a sea change, into "something rich and strange."
That eminent theatre historian Professor Allardyce Nicoll has propounded an interesting theory that the peak periods of great dramatic writing have followed shortly after some important new development in the form of the playhouse, which has acted as a fresh stimulus to the imagination of the writers, or potential writers for the theatre. And that it therefore follows that we are unlikely to see such a fresh dramatic renaissance until there has taken place a further big development in the shape of theatre buildings.
For the past seventy years, in this country at least, there has been little experiment in this direction. For this there are two reasons. Firstly, the theatre licensing conditions, which are based upon and perpetuate the proscenium-frame theatre of the seventies (one of the contributions of The Little Theatre Guild at the recent British Theatre Conference was to put forward a resolution on this very subject). Secondly, that the vast majority of professional theatre buildings to-day are in the hands, not of theatre people, but of real-estate owners, who are interested only in the short-term financial aspects of the theatre. We feel, therefore, that one of the jobs of the non-commercial little theatre is to experiment in this field.
What experiment there has been, both here and abroad, has mostly been aimed at dispensing with the proscenium frame, with a view to achieving a more direct and intimate relationship between the actor and the audience. In the USA, for instance, there are a number of theatres in which the arena-type stage is entirely surrounded by the audience. This is, of course, nothing new in itself, but it is certainly a change from the kind of theatre to which we have become accustomed. And it is a change which seems to be in key with the present times, when the aural and visual close-ups of the radio and screen have taught us to be responsive to subtleties which would he lost in the chasm of the orchestra pit, and when, because of the prevalence of mechanical entertainment, the great strength of the theatre lies more than ever in the close, living bond between actor and audience as they share an experience of the spirit.
These are some of the ideas behind our experiment this evening. Our audiences will have noticed that for some time past we have been experimenting with an apron stage of varying shapes and sizes. On this occasion we have thrown the apron right out into the auditorium.