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An Otago Tradition: Dr Harry Love and the Classics Department play

In 1992 Gail Tatum of Otago's Department of Classics produced Euripides' Medea in Allen Hall. This play, involving students, staff and a professional actor, with original music by Anthony Ritchie, proved to be the foundation of a sequence of classical dramas that has continued to the present. In the 21 years since that time, the Department of Classics has produced 18 plays. The 19th, Euripides' Trojan Women, will appear in Allen Hall from 10–13 July this year.

Most of these plays – 16 including the current production – have been directed by Dr Harry Love from his own translations and adaptations. His association with the Department of Classics dates back to student days in the 1960s and, after a time tutoring in English and the School of Business, was resumed as an actor in The Frogs (1993).

This association has proved fruitful, leading to the distribution of videos of the plays to schools and universities throughout New Zealand, Australia, Canada, US and UK, and to a number of publications. It also led to an Honorary Fellowship in Classics in 2003 and a return to teaching things that matter most to Harry.

His background in theatre is of longstanding, beginning with an association with Patric Carey at the Globe from 1965–69 and culminating, academically, in a PhD on dramatic texts from the University of Keele in 1977. But it's the old Greeks who have taught Love what he knows about theatre, as it was and as it is today. They, he says, discovered irony and found ways to penetrate, on the one hand, the depths and meanings of emotion and, on the other, the pretensions of human institutions and our need to laugh at them from time to time.

There have been many milestones on the journey from his first production of Oedipus the King in Castle Theatre in 1994. Deciding to bring the cast back after the run to film the play over a weekend was a leap of faith for Love, but proved to be a crucial first step that led to the filming of two more productions in subsequent years.

With three productions in the bag, Love took his work to Classroom Video, a Sydney educational distributor, where staff were impressed enough to take them up and send them around the world – this was milestone number one. By 2002 there were eight plays on the books and, in 2006, milestone number two was achieved with the publication of two volumes of essays and translations of Sophocles and Euripides by Cambridge Scholars Press in the UK.

Number three came in 2009 with the appearance of the Hurai, an audacious adaptation of Euripides' Bacchae refigured as an examination of the cultural clash of Māori and missionaries in early New Zealand. [John Watson as Williams in the Hurai is pictured above.] The text was published by Steele Roberts in Wellington in 2011.

In one sense, this year's production of Trojan Women completes a 20-year circle; Marilyn Parker, Jocasta in the 1994 Oedipus, plays Hecuba. She joins a high calibre cast who, backed by Corwin Newall's exquisite music, promise to show you just how up to date Euripides is. The experience is guaranteed to knock your socks off.

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