Universiteit Leiden

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Iris de Smalen

BA Classics students staging a production of Hecuba: ‘It really brings a tragedy to life.’

Translating texts, rehearsing scenes or practising music. Over the last few weeks, students of the BA Classics programme have been focused on just one thing: their production of the Greek tragedy Hecuba. Almost a third of them are involved in it. Iris de Smalen, who plays Hecuba, and Christoph Pieper, the director, explain what makes acting so enjoyable.

For nearly two years, students and teachers in the BA Classics programme have been working towards this production of Hecuba. First they translated the text into modern Dutch, suitable for being spoken on stage. This was followed by a year of intense rehearsal. ‘I sometimes say that a production like this should ideally be included in the standard curriculum,’ says Pieper. ‘You can see people who have previously acted maybe once or twice developing into actors who play their parts on stage with great self-confidence.’

Cauldron of emotions

‘You also get to know a text in a completely different way,’ adds Iris. ‘I’d already given a presentation on this play some time ago, so I thought I knew it well, but you only really understand the emotional developments that the characters undergo when you’re actively involved in them yourself.’

There are certainly plenty of emotional developments in Hecuba. ‘After winning the Trojan War, the Greeks can’t go home because there’s no wind,’ Iris summarises the premise of the tragedy. ‘They sacrifice Hecuba’s daughter to the gods, in the hope of being allowed to leave. Soon afterwards, her son’s body also washes ashore. Hecuba vows revenge on the people who killed him, but you also feel that many other pent-up emotions are at play here, about everything that’s happened in the preceding years.’

Great stage presence

‘I’m incredibly impressed by how the actors convey this,’ says Pieper. ‘You need to have great stage presence to be able over one and a half or two hours to make the audience feel that something so beyond human comprehension happened to you. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it ultimately comes across in the real theatre, with all the lights and the bigger space. That always makes a huge difference, compared with the lecture hall where we rehearse.’

Highlight of the week

For Iris, there are still a few more busy weeks ahead before the performance. She has to finalise the last details of her role and also make sure she’s ready for the exam period around the same time as the premiere. ‘I’m definitely a bit nervous about it. If you have a leading role, it also means you have responsibility. Sometimes I’ve found it difficult over the past year, but recently it’s actually been going very well. It’s amazing how strongly our group has bonded. The rehearsal evenings are always a highlight of my week.’

The performance of Hecuba will take place in Theater Ins Blau on 9 and 10 June. Tickets are available on this website.

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