Euripides' Hecuba is not often performed. I'm not sure why. Euripides also dealt with the aftermath of the sack of Troy in Andromache, and in the Trojan Women, which seem to appeal most to modern taste. The Archices of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama (whose database is being rebuilt) lists no British productions in the original since 1827. So it was bold of King's College London, and the director, Roseanne Long, to put the play on as their 2012 production, and equally courageous of the young cast, not all of them classicists, to act in a difficult and in some cases unfamiliar language.
It is a revenge play. At the end. the body count consists of Hecuba's daughter Polyxena, sacrificed to appease the ghost of Achilles and to secure a wind to blow the Greek ships off the Thracian coast, and her son Polydorus, whose ghost introduces the action, murdered by Polymestor for the Trojan gold he has brought with him. Hecuba seeks no revenge for Polyxena, but, with the Trojan women, lures Polymestor and his children into her tent, killing them and blinding their father with their brooch-pins. His eyes streaming with blood, Polymestor prophesies that Agamemmnon and Cassandra, Hecuba's other surviving child, will be murdered on their arrival in Greece and that Hecuba will be changed into a dog and thrown herself from the top mast of their ship.
The director said that she had deliberately chosen a traditional production, with a masked chorus singing the odes. Hecuba, played by Georgia Pearce, was queenly, impressively so for such a young actress, and was one of the non-classicists in the cast. Polymestor was agreeably hypocritical and avaricious. Agaememnon and Odysseus, played by native Greek speakers, had admirable military presence. Other parts, Polydorus's ghost, Polyxena, the herald Talthybilis and the Maid were played confidently. If I had a quibble, it was that the chorus were a little unassertive.
I am sure there is a thesis to be written, if it hasn't been already, on blinding in the theatre. Polymestor's deserved fate, for transgressing the duty to a stranger-guest, reminded of Oedipus, of course, but also of Gloucester's blinding in King Lear. I remember the shock the first time I saw the play at the Arts in Cambridge; I knew the text well enough, but that did not prepare me for this Cornwall (who was the actor?) who not only gouged out eyes, but stamped on them on the floor as he uttered the lines, 'out, vile jelly'.
The experience of seeing a play in a language one understands imperfectly is interesting. I remember a trip, as a sixth-former to a cramming fortnight in Paris for A level French. English boys and girls from all over the country were billeted in a French lycée over the Easter holiday, and subjected to intensive tuition. There was an optional trip to the Comédie-Française, to see a Molière play, I forget which. Only I and one other student put our names down and so Phillipa, as I remember her name, and I were dispatched across Paris to see a play neither of us knew. She was a far better scholar than me, and I was lost from the first few lines. She also had the misfortune to be escorted around Paris by a maladroit teenage boy; I am sure I could have made the experience more agreeable for her. I apologise now, if not too late.
I have also seen plays in German, and many in Greek. Learning from my mistakes, these days I learn the text in advance, and try my best to ignore the sur-titles, though they can be very seductive. I have nothing but admiration for the actors, who need not only to understand, but to deliver the text in a dramatically exciting way.