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Aeschylus, The Persians

Photo of chorus bowing to the tapestry and Queen's entry.

"O you cities of Asia, O you land of Persia and great harbour of wealth,
one blow has destroyed your great prosperity..."

Aeschylus' The Persians

January 25 - 26, 2024

Generously funded by the British Academy

Xerxes has gathered his subjects from across the world and has marched them west to conquer the cities of Greece. The noble men of his great and splendid army are discussed by Persian elders, each speculating how great the King’s victories are sure to have been. But Queen Atossa, mother of Xerxes, is troubled; her heart is worried by disastrous omens and terrible dreams. It is only upon the arrival of survivors from the failed expedition to Greece that the true horrors are revealed, and all of Asia falls into hysterical terror.

Video coming soon...

We are pleased to announce that the Warwick Ancient Drama Festival has returned in January 2024. After Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in 2020, Euripides’ Bacchae in 2022, Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen in 2023, Aeschylus made his much-anticipated debut in this year’s production by the Warwick Classics Society and the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. The play itself, presented in the recently renovated theatre of the Warwick Arts Centre, was a thrilling performance of the earliest surviving Greek tragedy and the only drama to draw its plot on historical events, accompanied by assorted talks and lectures from scholars of Greek drama.

This year's production of The Persians was powered by the creative spirit and collaboration between student volunteers and teaching staff at the Department of Classics and Ancient History. From the very beginning, Director Cameron Heagney, Producer Louise Domogal, and Stage Manager Colleen Baxter-Locker worked closely alongside Dr Emmanuela Bakola to produce a version of Aeschylus' Persians that reflected modern research into ancient theatre and festivals. The symbolic potential of fabrics and colour, as well as the careful manipulation of light, depth, and space, were key among their concerns in creating a modern production that could experiment with the stagecraft of Aeschylean tragedy.

From here, the active collaboration of the cast in sharing ideas and bringing them to life on stage brought great strength to the production. Moreover, the talents of alumna Hana Lawrie in costume design and construction, as well as of alumna Rhianna Pike in music composition and vocal training, also contributed greatly to the development of The Persians as a production built by local talents of the community centred around Warwick and the Department of Classics and Ancient History.

The chorus interrogating King Xerxes, reading from the scenes of defeat on his cape.

"They were the flower of the land, archers supreme,
a densely massed company of men; they have all perished…"

Supporting the matinee performance on Friday 26th of January, the Department offered a series of lectures, discussions, and seminars specifically for school students. These talks were designed to complement the Greek, Classical Civilisation, Ancient History, Drama, and English syllabuses at GCSE and A-Level. No prior knowledge of the play or subject area was required, and all were welcome to appreciate and see The Persians in its social, historical, and literary contexts. Two morning lectures primed an introduction to the ancient tragedy:

  • Dr Emmanuela Bakola, 'Introduction to Greek theatre and festivals'
  • Dr Paul Grigsby, 'The historical context of Aeschylus' Persians'

They were followed by a selection of talks running simultaneously, and repeated in two sessions:

  • Dr Xavier Buxton, 'The feminine in Aeschylus' Persians'
  • Professor David Fearn, 'How do we talk about the imagery of Aeschylus?'
  • In addition, Professor Margaret Miller, offering a recorded talk on the Greek imagination of the Persians with evidence from iconography and material culture
Close-up image of Queen Atossa retelling her dream to the chorus.

"Yet I have a wish from you, my friends, to learn this:
where do men say that Athens stands upon the earth?"

If you would like to reach out to know more about the 2024 production of The Persians, the Warwick Ancient Drama Festival, or the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick, please feel free to contact Dr Emmanuela Bakola at e.bakola@warwick.ac.uk.