Fractions, a new play by Marcel Dorney, opened at the Queensland Theatre Company last week. It is a dramatic work based on the life of Hypatia, last librarian at the Library of Alexandria which for 800 years was the greatest repository of human knowledge in the world. “It’s the story of an extraordinary woman who went to great lengths to protect the intellectual legacy at a time it was under great threat,” he explains.
“These are big concepts. It is a big topic.” Marcel has always been captivated by ancient Greek culture. As a child, he heard about Hypatia, and the hypothesis that her death marked the end of the classical world. He has been musing on it ever since.
“I am extraordinarily interested in it, as a westerner. I’m not Greek by heritage but I’m fascinated by the enormous intellectual and poetic energy that came out of the Hellenic world. Not just what the Greeks achieved, but how they changed the very idea of culture and civilisation. When we talk of these things, they are a Greek development.” Marcel has brought substantial experience and scholarship to bear in creating Fractions, using the form and philosophy of classical drama to provide the structure of the play.
“The play has drawn on the traditions of ancient Greek theatre, but it is also very much a contemporary piece. The way that it is put together as a story, its plot, is very much drawn from classical Greek drama, but the dialogue is modern. For people who like gangster movies or cop shows, it’s no problem.” Marcel has spent four years writing Fractions. He and director John Halpin have been collaborating on its development throughout that time, so writer and director have travelled together the journey of the play’s genesis. It is a rare opportunity for a writer to be able to share a work as it grows from germination into its independence, and the privilege is not lost on him.
“It’s been the best. And it’s changed us both. We’ve always been on the same page with it, but it’s deepened the way we see the world, being up close and personal with this extraordinary culture.” Despite being a play of big themes, complex ideas, and set 1600 years ago, Marcel believes Fractions is accessible and audience friendly. “You don’t have to know anything about the invention of mathematics or philosophy or Greek history to enjoy it. But if you do, you’ll have a really good time.”
Fractions is on at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, until 10 December.