Roll up for a classic

Perfect venue: Matt Shipton at the South Street Amphitheatre. picture: stuart hastings
Perfect venue: Matt Shipton at the South Street Amphitheatre. picture: stuart hastings
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YOU might call it a ‘Eureka’ moment.

Matt Shipton – a Sheffield-raised lad whose job is to popularise ancient Greek drama in 21st century Britain – was visiting his home town last summer when he saw, for the first time, the new South Street Amphitheatre.

“It looked magnificent,” says the 35-year-old. “I’ve travelled all over researching classics but this is as close as you get to a modern equivalent of an ancient Greek theatre – from its sheers scale to how it overlooks the city.

“I thought ‘I have to stage a play there’. And then I thought a place like that doesn’t just deserve a play, it deserves a festival. It was like a bolt of lightning from Zeus.”

Thus was born what will be the UK’s first ever Festival Of Ancient Drama.

Plays, poetry readings, film screenings, exhibitions, talks and workshops will be held at venues across Sheffield over one long summer weekend.

The flagship event – a performance of Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus at the amphitheatre, above Sheffield’s railway station – will be led by a heavyweight local actor (“we’re in discussion with a couple of people,” smiles Matthew when The Diary mentions Sean Bean has form for sandal drama); while there will also be films screened at The Showroom, a possible exhibition at The Workstation, and international experts visiting schools.

And it is hoped the extravaganza – organised by Matt through the Classical Reception Studies Network and backed by Sheffield City Council – will not only bring dozens of scholars into the city but will also encourage Sheffielders to embrace the blood, guts, love, war and occasional spot of homoeroticism which make up your average Greek tale.

“These stories may be thousands of years old but they are relevant today,” says Matt, who now lives in London but is a former High Storrs School and Sheffield Hallam University student. “Corruption, power, social mobility? They still chime in 21st century Britain.”

It seems, as Hippocrates noted, “life is short, art long”.

“Exactly,” says Matthew, who grew up in Nether Edge. “Above all else, classic dramas are great yarns. We have Shakespeare coming out of our ears in this country – and that’s fine – but I reckon in this Olympic year, it is the perfect time for the country to celebrate ancient drama.”

But it won’t just be a one-year thing, he says. “I reckon by 2015 we could make this an international event,” says Matt. “There aren’t many things like this anywhere in the world, and there certainly aren’t many venues like South Street. There’s a gap for it and there’s no reason that gap can’t be filled here.”

It seems it could be the start of quite an Odyssey.

The festival will run June 22-25. A full schedule will be released in the spring. Anyone wanting more information or who would like to get involved, either as cast, crew or festival organiser, should visit www.sheffest.co.uk