History Repeats

2 May 2012 | 8:00 am | Aleksia Barron

Benedict Hardie is taking on Greek theatre – but not as we'd know it. He's directing The Seizure, a revision of the Sophocles play Philoctetes, and it's a project that he's happy to speak about at some length. “It's a surprisingly simple play,” he says. “We think of these Greek plays and we think of the word 'epic', but this play is just set in one location with a handful of characters and one problem that they need to solve.”

Hardie's rundown of the plot is succinct: “There's a man who's been abandoned on an island in the middle of a war, and the only way that they can end it is if they go back and rescue that man. When the play starts, we find a man on an island, and his only companion is a crow. Then these two soldiers come and try and reconcile with him.”

It sounds simple, but of course, there's much to be found in Sophocles' text that bears relevance to our world today – starting with those two soldiers. “We see these soldiers who are quite palatable, but they're losing a war,” says Hardie. “They're stuck in a war that's been going for ten years, and that war was fought on questionable grounds.” It sounds familiar to most modern audiences – a fact which doesn't escape Hardie. “Yes, I think it sounds very familiar. Now they're looking for a way out of that war, and they need to go back, realise that they made mistakes in the past, and try to fix things.”

In engaging with the text of Philoctetes in order to create The Seizure, Hardie was struck by the parallels that he can see within Sophocles' own mindset at the time of writing and the issues that people are grappling with all over the world today. “It's a play written by Sophocles when he was 87, at a time when the Athenians were losing a war,” he says. “They were starting to realise that this Ancient Greek empire was not going to last forever.” It hits close to home for Hardie: “I think Sophocles was ahead of his time when he wrote this play. I have a particular fascination with the fact that the western world is, for want of a better world, in decline. That's something that particularly excites me about this play, speaking to us now – that the foundations that we built upon have proven to be shaky.”

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So is The Seizure a modernisation of Philoctetes? Not quite, says Hardie. “One thing that we talk about [at The Hayloft Project] is that you can relocate a play – put it into a modern context, or a context of another time.” With The Seizure, a different approach has been taken. “It's about de-locating a play. That means that it could be Ancient Greece, or it could be today, or it could be anywhere in between, or the future,” Hardie explains. “That's why we use this warehouse space, because a warehouse space you can strip right back and take a lot of the elements out of it. We're really inviting the audience's imagination to make their own connections.”

The Seizure runs from Thursday 3 to Saturday 19 May, Studio 246, Brunswick