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A Chorus of Disapproval

John Carr questions whether re-enacting classical theatre at historic sites is a good thing.

Scylla and Charybdis clash still in the artistic and political arenas of the ancient Mediterranean theatre. But the battle lines are drawn not between the artists and politicos of Scylla; rather the artists' opponents are the Charybdis of conservation of those ancient places of performance built to the triumph of Greece and Rome - the theatres, stadia, odea, amphitheatres and arenas where classical civilisations declaimed and disported themselves.

These echoing ancient sites have become the scene of a deep political, philosophical and practical contest between impresarios, artistic directors, actors, designers and orators on the one hand, and archaeologists and conservators on the other. Lurking on the sidelines are the scavengers of tourism.

There are those who passionately feel that the monuments are there to be marvelled at, studied as they stand, handed on to future generations unaltered save for what improvements may be achievable without their integrity in any way being compromised. These are the self-appointed guardians of the temple.

Their forces, spread thinly over the skirmish ground, are fighting valiantly. But they have responsibility without power - the role of the eunuch down the ages. Their antitheses - the theatrical giants - revel almost openly in an apparent position of strength, having as Kipling (and subsequently Stanley Baldwin) memorably uttered, power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot down the ages.

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