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Good evening and welcome to Front Row.
I'm Mary Beard, and tonight we're going to be exploring some
of the modern conversations that we still have with the classical world.
Coming up on the show,
I'm at the Sir John Soane's Museum in London to find out how one
artist is having fun bringing the ancient and modern worlds closer.
We discuss why Medea, Euripides' tragedy about a woman who
murders her children to avenge her betrayal, still resonates today.
We ask what happens when a man takes the title role.
Artist Nathan Coley talks to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma about
how his design for the new Victoria
and Albert Museum is taking shape in Dundee.
And David Gilmour is in the studio to talk about his latest film,
David Gilmour Live At Pompeii,
and to perform a track from that incredible concert.
Joining me in the studio to discuss all this
and more are classicist Edith Hall,
writer and poet Roz Kaveney and actor Kate Fleetwood.
-Hello, good evening.
First, we're going to see an exhibition in a very
Sir John Soane was one of Britain's
most radical neoclassical architects.
He's actually best known now for the tomb that he
designed for himself, which was the inspiration for the design
of the British red telephone box.
But he was also an unstoppable collector, and he filled his
house in Lincoln's Inn Field with a complete conglomeration of stuff.
And when he died in 1837, he insisted that it should be
left exactly as it was and opened to the public as a museum.
I went there to take a look.
When you walk into Soane's house,
the first impression is one of utter chaos.
It's an Aladdin's Cave full of real antiquities, copies of all sorts.
They're all rubbing shoulders
and there's hardly a museum label to be seen.
Soane was, to put it kindly, a bit of a one-off.
But he was also part of a long
and rich tradition in which modern writers
and artists have re-presented the ancient world to the modern
in all kinds of different, creative and popular ways.
We're most familiar with that from the tradition of film,
from the extraordinary re-imagination of the glories
of ancient Egypt in Cleopatra,
to the recreation of the brutalities of the Coliseum in Gladiator.
Giving the classical world a startlingly modern twist is
young designer Adam Nathaniel Furman.
His digitally created
and 3D-printed city colourfully re-imagines the architecture
of Rome, and is currently residing in John Soane's kitchen.
This is a bit of a shock. Hello, Adam.
Some people might come in here and say this was all pretty kitsch.
What would you say to that?
Absolutely, it is.
I was in Rome for six months and I went on these epic,
long walks, during which I saw countless,
endless amounts of architecture from every century going
back 2,000 years, and at the end of the day, we'd turn them
into capriccios, which are little, intuitive drawings.
They're not actually what I saw, but they're sort of imaginative
combinations of everything I saw during the day.
But then at the same time, I'd be doing quite complicated
and detailed architectural designs based upon one building or
one story that I'd discovered during the day.
And these would then come together
-and become one of these ceramic objects.
-And why Rome?
There's no place in the world where you walk down every street
and there's pretty much every single architectural and artistic era
and period from Western history just together.
And it's part of the everyday?
Yeah, no, I mean, you've got people...
Like, you've got lovers kissing on top of fragments that
here would be in the British Museum and you've got a gay nightclub,
effectively, in a fantastic old Roman baths.
You know, the life is just pulsing around it
and it's just part of everyday life. I love it.
And then you make them these slightly striking colours.
I mean, what lies behind all this pink and yellow?
I just find that when you use colour you really make people
receive something in a totally different way.
If this was all white they would see it as sort of more serious
and academic, and I like to think of it as if I'm taking classical
forms and existing architecture and I'm putting it in drag,
I'm bringing it out for a party and people receive it that way.
They respond to it in a much more fun and immediate manner.
We do tend to admire Roman architecture, admire Roman art,
and quite a lot of it was actually playful, a bit kitsch, a bit cheap.
I think they might have loved this.
I guess for me it's trying to say that history,
it's not something we have to touch with white gloves.
You don't have to be afraid of it.
The past should be as instantly accessible as a dancing
Chihuahua on YouTube. It should belong to all of us.
So this is both Rome and not Rome.
It's the kind of souvenir... souvenir we can take home,
-the souvenir of YOUR visit.
In the end,
we can drink out of it.
It's your own souvenir that you can actually walk away with.
Adam Nathaniel Furman, The Roman Singularity
is on at the Sir John Soane's Museum in London
until the 10th of December.
Now, nobody could ever describe Euripides' Medea as fun.
It has an unsettling heroine, a scandalous plot and it's been
one of the most enduring plays
in the repertoire of classical drama.
Recently, an even more unsettling version,
Medea, Written in Rage, has been performed.
It actually takes the Euripides play
and it turns it into an 80-minute monologue performed by a man.
Written originally in French by Jean-Rene Lemoine,
it's been translated,
adapted and directed in the UK by Neil Bartlett.
At the beginning of the show I really wanted to give people
the impression that this was the real Medea coming
back from the myths of history
to tell her story.
Medea comes to us from the myths and legends of ancient Greece.
She's a sorceress, the daughter of the sun,
and she uses her magic powers to make Jason, of Argonauts
and Golden Fleece fame, fall in love with her.
She follows him where he chooses to go through the world,
she bears him children but, crucially, they never get married.
He famously dumps her and she kills their children.
I push his head under the water 10 times, 100 times,
he looks at me in surprise,
his mouth gaping open.
Medea's story has been told a thousand times
but I think this new version does two things which are very different.
One, she's on her own on stage, it's a one-person show.
Also we've gone back to Euripides' idea
that Medea might be a part
very well suited to be played by a man,
so Francois Testory performs Medea.
I think seeing this archetypal story of female rage played by
one, a foreigner, and two, who someone's performance bends gender
till it breaks gives the story a very dark and fascinating twist.
He says, "Why do you hate me, Medea? What have I ever done to you?"
His hand stings my cheek like a leather belt. I say nothing.
Does anyone ever know why they hate?
How do you solve a problem like Medea?
Well, I don't want to solve the problem of Medea, I want to
bring Medea on stage to confront the audience and to say,
"Listen, this is what I did. It's up for you to work out why I did it."
I was a bit apprehensive when I went to see this because I thought
here in Medea you have got what seemed to me
to be THE classic play about binary gender division,
the woman versus the man.
And I didn't see how that could be successful.
But did you think it worked?
Yes, very much so because it's always in a sense been a male
fantasy about what women might do
-if you annoy them.
-So what happens when you make Medea a man?
I think it raises the question of what is the natural order
that's being subverted.
It's saying however radical Euripides' version was,
it always assumed male power that this is an exception to.
I don't quite see in what way this is a subversion.
-How does it subvert?
-I don't think it's a subversion,
I just think it's an extraordinarily powerful
rendition of the archetypal murderer of neither gender who is
absolutely distraught by loss.
The sheer range of emotions that Testory takes us through
is absolutely extraordinary. And of course the power of the male voice,
he's got this perfect low contralto, high tenor voice
and you never quite know which way he's going to go,
and that gives this figure of Medea an extraordinary sort of
phallic authority, which is what the ancient actor would have given her.
That's one of the things that's really interesting, as Neil Bartlett
refers to, really, that we often take it for granted and just
say, "Oh, of course, in the ancient world they were all played by men."
But we don't often think, "So what does that mean?"
In this I think it really emphasised the power of Medea.
You are taking notice of her, not because she's a wronged woman
but because she's got something to say.
Absolutely. Testory has clearly studied some of the ancient
artefacts that show us male tragic actors in performance.
You can actually see that from the way that he holds his head
and his arms. I think Testory is bringing us back as close as we
could ever get to what it was like
to be standing in the Theatre of Dionysus in 431BC.
But it also...for me who knows little about the practice
of acting, seemed an extraordinary technical accomplishment.
I mean, 80 minutes' monologue.
Parts of... The Euripides play has got quite a lot of big speeches
-but how does somebody manage that?
I mean, I remember when I was learning it, I mean,
I just had to do it in big chunks
and you would look at the paper and just turn the page again and again
and go, "Oh, my God, there's more. There's more. There's more."
But you use visualisation as an actor.
If there's a tight, formal structure to it it's actually much
easier to learn because the images drag your visualisation into them
and metaphor and all of those tools you learn to remember things.
You might give us a bit of it, actually,
cos I think it might illustrate some of the similarities and differences.
Certainly, I'll read you some.
"I have now decided what to do.
"With all haste I shall kill my children
"and leave this country.
"I shall not delay and so surrender them to other,
"crueller hands to kill.
"There's no escape from it.
"None at all.
"They must die.
"And since they must,
"I, who bore them, shall kill them.
"Why do I delay to do the terrible but necessary crime?
"Come, my cruel hand.
"Take the sword. Take it.
"Go forward to where life's pain begins.
"Do not prove a coward.
"Do not think how very much you love your children,
"how you gave birth to them.
"Forget your feelings for them.
"For this one brief day.
"And then lament.
"For even if you will kill them,
"still they were born your dear children.
"And I am an ill-fated woman."
There is a question about the relevance of this.
I think it's really interesting that recently Mike Bartlett,
the creator of Doctor Foster,
said that Medea actually lay behind Doctor Foster.
You know, somehow made me think that this was turning
Medea into the kind of, you know, the classic divorce movie.
Do you think Medea is relevant in that Doctor Foster way?
The play originally is actually a Haitian African descent,
and it's an awful lot about colonial anger with France.
Now, that doesn't translate specifically into the English
context so it's about any other who you have diminished
getting their own back in the end.
It's not going to be just about a divorce story,
an angry screeching row between a man and a wife,
it's about someone who's had their power taken from them,
someone who's displaced and is inactive
and has had their power wrenched from them.
And they not only become bankrupt in the way
they are treated from their family but from society as well.
Medea, Written In Rage
is on in Liverpool next week and then touring,
though I think I should warn you it isn't exactly family viewing.
And for those who can't get enough of her,
Cherubini's opera Medea is currently playing
at the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland, directed by Fiona Shaw.
Now, back in antiquity, museums were temples of the Muses,
the goddesses of arts, creativity and culture,
and John Soane was only one of many architects
who have had a go at adapting that idea of the temple
to the modern museum.
Right now, in Dundee, there's a very, very new one going up
because the V&A, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,
is about to have a partner,
which is going to showcase Scottish design past and present,
and the winner of the competition to design this museum
was the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma,
and we sent the artist Nathan Coley
to talk to him about the progress so far.
I'm interested in ideas of public space and architecture
and how they reflect and influence people's lives.
Today I'm going back to Dundee, the city where I lived ten years ago.
It was on the up then,
but now an ambitious £1 billion programme
of waterfront regeneration, with V&A Dundee at its heart,
looks set to transform the city.
V&A Dundee is the first UK building designed by
the fantastically dynamic Japanese architect Kengo Kuma,
who is also designing
the Olympic Stadium
for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
He has designed everything,
from Buddhist shrines to mountaintop observatories,
and is interested in how nature and humans and architecture
can have a conversation between them.
Kengo, would you say that you are importing Japanese aesthetic
here to Dundee?
I don't think I export Japan to Dundee.
But as a... I feel there's a...
Scotland and Japan have some similarity.
Both people respect nature and their nature has some strongness.
Kuma's design for the facade was inspired by
a particular part of the local Scottish landscape.
The cliff is between water and land.
We thought the cliff can translate to the building.
The location is between water and land
and, for that kind of special place, the building was not needed.
A kind of new cliff was needed for this kind of location.
That's a lovely idea.
A new cliff was needed.
I'm interested in the form of the building,
where it touches the land, being at its smallest point.
And the form becomes larger.
It's almost a kind of inversion of what would perhaps be traditional.
Some buildings with a straight wall reject people,
but this shape can draw all the people to the building
and the space beneath the section is a kind of in-between space.
It is not exterior, not interior,
it is the most comfortable environment for humans.
I think the moment where the building comes out of the water
and then lands on the waterside, for me,
there seems to be a real tension there.
Here, the water is part of the building design
and the water is always moving
and we try to create the same kind of vibration on the facade.
You are well known to have a strong opinion about what you feel
the role of the architect is in the 21st century.
In 20th century, the main role of architects
is to create artificial environments,
and the skyscraper is a symbol of the 20th century.
But in the 21st century,
the role of architects is to reconnect nature and city.
So the architect is no longer the master planner of the universe?
The architect cannot design the universe.
The nature is much stronger than a building
and much beautifuller than the city.
Philip Long is director of the new museum.
When the museum's opened next year, what will the visiting public
be able to see in terms of the collection?
What we've concentrated on for V&A Dundee,
especially for its opening years, is to build a display which
looks at this extraordinary history of Scotland's design.
In our work on that and our research on that, we identified
that V&A, in its collections,
had over 12,000 objects that relate to Scotland's design history.
And something I'm especially proud of, we are restoring an original
Mackintosh room that hasn't been seen since it was in use, in 1970.
And that will be a thrilling experience to see, after
that has been in storage for nearly 50 years.
Design in Scotland has an illustrious past
and V&A Dundee will celebrate that past as well
as show our fantastic contemporary achievement.
The Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, Dundee, is due to open in 2018.
Also in Scotland this week, the Sonica festival in Glasgow
features, believe it or not, the UK's first underwater concert.
The Danish team Between Music invited Front Row to go
and find out a bit more about their presentation, AquaSonic.
DISTORTED PERCUSSION ECHOES
It was 46 years ago that Pink Floyd were filmed
playing in the amphitheatre at Pompeii.
It was completely empty, just the band, no audience.
In 2016, David Gilmour went back.
This time, there was an audience.
And I was lucky enough to be there.
I have to say,
I also think I've made a small cameo appearance in the box set
version of this concert, explaining about the lavatory
provision in the ancient amphitheatre.
But for me, it was overall just completely memorable. Almost moving.
I think, to be sitting there on the same seats that the ancient
audience would have watched the blood and guts
of the gladiatorial shows,
to be enjoying sound and spectacle of a wholly different sort.
What I remember at the time was, listening to that
and thinking, "Here's a track from The Wall."
Suddenly, when you hear it in the amphitheatre at Pompeii,
it started to be about something else entirely.
When it said, "Run, run, run," you thought, "Oh, my God,
"the volcano's about to erupt!"
Did you feel that performing in that place made some of these
Absolutely, it definitely made them different.
The audience in AD79 would've had nowhere to run,
if they wanted to run. We felt safe enough on the stage.
SHE LAUGHS It didn't look very safe.
The atmosphere of being there in that arena and, you know,
the whole concert started just at dusk,
where you could still see Vesuvius there behind us, was really exciting.
And I wondered also when I was there at the time how different it
felt for you being there in 2016,
from in the early '70s, which...
In the '70s, early '70s, we had no audience and we were making a film.
We were standing in the arena, it was roasting hot and I was 25.
A little bit older now.
So, it was just take and retake, the way that one does. Here it's a
performance that has to work on its own, and with an audience, it's dark.
Not all of it was dark, we did most of it shooting in the daytime. Erm, very different.
David Gilmour Live At Pompeii is available on DVD
and Blu-ray and will be shown on BBC Two later this year.
That's it for this week's Front Row.
Thank you to my guests, Edith Hall, Roz Kaveney and Kate Fleetwood.
If you want information and details about anything we've been
talking about, do head to our website and of course, it's
arts, news and reviews every weeknight
on Radio 4's Front Row at 7.15.
Next week is the last programme in the current series
and Giles Coren will be back with an Agatha Christie special.
I leave you with David Gilmour performing A Boat Lies Waiting.
# Something I never knew
# In silence I'd hear you
# And a boat lies waiting
# Still your clouds all flaming
# That old-time easy feeling
# What I lost was an ocean
# Now I'm drifting through without you
# In this sad barcarolle
# What I lost was an ocean
# And I'm rolling right behind you
# In this sad barcarolle
# It rocks you like a cradle It rocks you to the core
# You'll sleep like a baby As it knocks at death's door
# Ooh, ooh
# Ooh, ooh
# Ooh, ooh
# Ooh, ooh
# Ooh, ooh. #