THEATRE / Between the Lines: Peak conditions: Barrie Rutter, the 'northern' Richard III, on the impact of Aeschylus translated by Tony Harrison

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You know when a collie not used to its charges

Scatters the daft sheep every direction

Colliding, collapsing that kind of chaos

Well that's how the waves were. Next morning

The Aegean had mushroomed with corpses and shipwreck.

From Tony Harrison's version of Aeschylus's The Oresteia

FIVE minutes into my first meeting with Tony Harrison in 1980 he told me he'd just spent the best part of 10 years translating The Oresteia for voices like mine; two minutes later we'd switched subject and were singing the praises of the Hunslet Rugby League Team of the Sixties. Sport and Art, a goodly duo] - and one that the Ancients readily embraced. The Oresteia is full of wrestling imagery and the Ancient sites hosted poetry, athletics, equestrian races and drama at their festivals. When rehearsals started for The Oresteia, the sporting co-ordination that I retained from my youth provided the physical centre necessary for 'moving in oil', as the movement of the play became known; moreover the power of the lung and diaphragm exercised during many a Saturday morning soccer match and cross-country run, aided and abetted by years in the theatre, was the fuel feeding the rolling, rhythmic muscularity of Harrison's text - 'the best acting translation of Aeschylus ever written' (Oswyn Murray, Balliol College, Oxford). A poet writing for actors to perform: what's new in that? Bugger all] But nobody does it better than Tony Harrison. His trusty counsellors Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote performability into their text. So does Harrison, 2,500 years later, in English.

Barrie Rutter's 'Richard III', performed by his Northern Broadsides company, opens tonight at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith (081-748 3354).

(Photograph omitted)

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