Making Frogs Funny Again - Thomas Devlin on acting Aristophanes for Dionsyia Fest '19
Last year Found In Translation were commissioned by the Iris Project, an educational charity promoting teaching about the ancient world in UK state schools, to perform as guests at their Dionysia Fest, an ancient drama competition for Year 8 students in Oxford. So we devised a short adaptation of the Greek comedy ‘Frogs’ by Aristophanes with a fresh company of actors, including Thomas Devlin who shares his thoughts on his first FIT Theatre production:
I always thought very little good came out of social media, but here and now very publicly I have to admit I was wrong, because if it wasn’t for Instagram I wouldn’t have seen a humble little add, shared by an old school friend, offering the chance to audition for an Ancient Greek play with a little theatre company called Found In Translation Theatre. In case my presence on this blog doesn’t make it abundantly clear, I leapt at the opportunity!
You see, I’d studied classics at college. Or, as I should say, I was lucky to attend a college with the opportunity to study Classical Civilisation, which is sadly quite rare in the UK (something the Iris Project endeavours to change for the better - but more on that later). I loved the ancient stories I was taught and had always wanted to see them performed. Sadly that wasn’t nearly as accessible as it should have been, so now I wanted to be a part of it - one self tape and a few video calls later, I was glad to be on board with FIT Theatre.
Playing Heracles was a really interesting experience. It is easy to have a mental image of him based on the “ tough guy” persona of someone who’s name is literally used as an adjective for a tough task or an even tougher man. But after a few evenings of hit-and-miss divising, I started to throw off some assumptions and clichés, and began to see the humanity and humour in a man wrapped up in his own legend. You can be extra creative when a character’s path has so been overdone in one direction that you're forced to go a different way - especially as keeping things interesting and appealing to school children was such an important point of this project!
The way we devised this production was very special. I think I speak for the whole cast when I say that tackling ancient text and characters can be daunting. It is easy to feel a need to bend over backwards to mould ourselves into one dimensional ‘heroic’ caricatures. But, by getting the text on its feet straight away and exploring different roles combinations, we started finding our own versions of these well documented individuals. Before we knew it, these imposing titans were just flawed little people like the rest of us!
After a few weeks rehearsing in Colchester, we packed up our props and costumes and convened bright and early one morning in Oxford, ready to perform at the Corpus Christi College for the Iris Project’s Dionysia Fest. We rushed in a quick run-through before settling down to watch a few performances of extracts from ancient plays by Year 8s from local schools - one of which, quite surprisingly, was an extract from Frogs which we were about to perform. It was wonderful to see their approach, how freely they could interpret these stories when given the chance to explore them early age, instead of being told they are “too confusing” or time consuming to explain in History and English classrooms.
Soon it was our turn to perform and as we prepared backstage it was a relief to know that we had an audience that would be familiar with our story and understand the characters enough to laugh at the jokes... and they really did! It went wonderfully, with both young and old audience members enjoying our approach and (dare I say) how accessible FIT Theatre had made Aristophanes!
Thanks to this opportunity arranged by the Iris Project, dozens more people could go on to advocate for others to watch, read and experience these ancient stories in new ways. Thanks to campaigns like the Iris Project, audiences interested in the ancient world can flourish across the UK and Found In Translation will continue to perform beautiful and innovative versions of stories about where we come from and what inspires us. These stories deserve to be told and I hope to be part telling them for a long time to come.
Thomas Devlin is a London based actor/creative currently working in both film and theatre nationwide. Since 2019 he has been an associate performer of Found In Translation.