The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus - West Yorkshire Playhouse
While the seating capacity is somewhat smaller, the WYP's Quarry Theatre has established itself as the region's closest equivalent to the Theatre of Dionysus. Fitting then that The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus should enjoy its first revival back in writer Tony Harrison's birthplace, incorporating as it does the remnants of Sophocles' satyr play Ichneutae.
Crucial to the whole northern spirit of The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus is the involvement of director Barrie Rutter and Northern Broadsides, the company that in part owes its creation to this modern day satyr. So Rutter and his fellow revellers once again don their phallic appendages to deliver Harrison's mighty iambic trimeters and anapaestic lines.
But all this literary nonsense and talk of Greek drama gets in the way. You don't need to be a Greek scholar to understand this remarkable play. Harrison is involved in a high/low art debate which is central to the piece. Satyr plays themselves have been lost because Alexandrian scholars insisted on loading their literary canon with Greek tragedy. Theatre is, let's face it, the leisure pursuit of the middle and upper classes. Harrison, on the other hand, wants everyone on board, regardless of social standing. And he tears down the barriers of pretension with language that lives and breathes and speaks to the masses. Moreover, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus is a celebration of and in performance.
Harrison's text weaves Grenfell and Hunt's search for missing Greek literature in the Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus with what remains of Ichneutae and drags the classics head on into the contemporary. When the satyrs are eventually propelled into the modern day the play parallels Greek attitudes to culture with those of today.
Rutter is made for the role of the ageing yet still vulgar satyr Silenus and it is a joy to watch a performer have so much fun with a part. Conrad Nelson is a man truly possessed by Apollo during his transformation from mortal Grenfell to the Greek God. Both the major players are supported by the mass ranks of the satyrs, an authentic brigade of northerners who hand us Harrison's accessible poetry while stepping out Lawrence Evans' percussive clog dances. Fine Time Fontayne gets the opportunity to play to the house wearing the soiled nappy of Hermes, something that the aloof Kyllene (Sasha Behar) wouldn't dream of.
The Quarry Theatre's orchestra space serves well as an Egyptian desert for designer Adrian Rees who also uses the structural features of the building to aide the crash of past into present and Brian Harris' lighting eases us through night and day. And the parts become a whole with Stephen Edwards' original and fitting compositions. Let's not be precious about The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus. Just see it, enjoy and hope it never gets lost.
At the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 14th November.
Warning: The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus contains language and phallic imagery that may cause offence.