That first astounding show in 1882 heralded one of the most surprising developments in modern western theatre

That first astounding show in 1882 heralded one of the most surprising developments in modern western theatre. Since the turn of the 20th century, ancient Greek plays have become part of the repertoire of all modern theatres and, since the 1970s, there has been the most remarkable explosion of performances of Greek tragedy across the world – not just in Europe and the USA, but also in Japan and Africa and Russia. In London, Paris and New York, almost no year goes by without a revival of one of these classics. In 2001 alone, there were 17 productions of Aeschylus’ great trilogy the Oresteia in the USA, which is more than there were in the whole world in the first 65 years of the 19th century. In London, three separate productions of Sophocles’ Electra were staged over a few months. When theatre director Peter Sellars wanted to stage his anguish at the Gulf War in the early 1990s, he turned to Aeschylus’ Persians – in California, Edinburgh and Austria. There is no sign of this growth slowing, on campus or in the professional theatre. Greek tragedy seems once again to speak urgently and authoritatively to a modern audience.