Benedict Hardie talks to Time Out about his new play, The Seizure, an adaptation of Sophocles' Philoctetes
There are two ways to adapt a classic. You can either rewrite it as an "iPhones and Obama" play – a version where the all the archaisms of place and time are carefully replaced with modern analogues – or you can "de-locate" the action, placing it in a world that is recognisable, but not definitively our own, a place that is both new and old all at once.
This at least is the off-the-cuff theory of Benedict Hardie, writer of Yuri Wells, Delectable Shelter, The Nest,and now The Seizure.
In 2010, writing The Nest, which adapted Maxim Gorky's The Philistines, Hardie took the first route. This time, adapting Sophocles' Philoctetes, he has gone the other way.
Philoctetes is a painful case. He was abandoned on a deserted island by the Greek armada sailing for Troy. A snake bite on his foot had become infected, producing an odour intolerable to his companions.
Arriving at Troy, however, the Greeks discover that, according to prophecy, in order to defeat the Trojans they must recover the bow of Heracles, which just happens to be in the possession of none other than Philoctetes.
As the play opens, Odysseus and Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, are newly arrived on Philoctetes' lonely island. What they find is a man furious at being betrayed, and unwilling to budge.
"So there is still the bow and still the Trojan war," says the award-winning writer. "But the dialogue is contemporary. It's really two things at once."
On the surface, the play is incredibly simple. It's set in one spot, a tiny island, has only a handful of key characters, and is tied up neatly at the end. But, according to Hardie, it gets more difficult the more you think about it.
"There's a lot in this play that appeals to me, about how people hurt each other, and our capacity for cruelty," he explains, "but it's a really maddening tragedy. No one dies at the end. You find you don't even remember the climax. What you remember is the suffering and the injustice of the beginning."