It's an interesting work, and I have used it in the past to help bring Thucydides alive to students, though one has to be careful with it. The adaptation is very free. Barton can sometimes be a bit indifferent to chronology, presenting events in an order that seems to him dramatically right, rather than the order in which they actually happened. For instance, the Mytilene debate is placed after Brasidas' expedition to the Thracian Chersonese. And I have always suspected that Thucydides' opening lines, "I doubt this war will be finished in my lifetime ...", indicate a belief on Barton's part that because Thucydides did not complete his history, he did not survive the war (in fact, there are clear references to the end of the war in Thucydides' work, even though his main narrative does not get to the end).
This version differed from that I had seen before in being longer. The 1991 version breaks off after the destruction of the Sicilian expedition. The 2006 performance contains a more complete end, including the trial and execution of Socrates (something Thucydides may well not have lived to see). My suspicion is that this is something restored from the original 1960s version. Also of note is that sections previously narrated by Thucydides have now been give to others in the cast to act out - this may be the result of Barton rethinking. There was a good cast, including Timothy West as Socrates, and Clive Francis as Thucydides - but it could, of course, not match the stellar cast assembled in 1991, which included Ben Kingsley, David Calder, Don Henderson, Andrew Keir, Jonathan Hyde - the cream of the classical theatre of the early 1990s.
And the work remains relevant; indeed, when the Athenian ambassadors speak to the Melians about how Melos should capitulate because Athens has the power to do what she wants, it seems more relevant to 2006 than to 1991. Many other characters articulate issues with contemporary relevance. The Spartan King Archidamus has a speech near the beginning about how war is not a good thing, not to be entered into lightly, and the consequences are often unforeseen - and as I watched it again I wished that George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had been exposed to this.
After the performance, there was a debate chaired by John Snow, with Paul Cartledge, Germaine Greer, Helena Kennedy and Haleh Afshar. A few points were raised that I thought interesting.
Germaine Greer had just come back from Bangladesh, where she had been researching the war of 1971. She had discovered that, though stories were spread that many women in Bangladesh who had survived being raped by Pakistani soldiers, the truth was that the vast majority of raped women were murdered. Her point was that the suffering of women is often played down in comparison with what happens to men. Her implication was that, when Thucydides talks of men in a city being killed, and women and children sold into slavery, he is doing the same, and the true fate of those women would be death. Whilst acknowledging some of Greer's point, she overlooks the economic factor. Women in Bangladesh were of no economic value to Pakistani troops - but women in Melos were of economic value to Athenian troops, as they could be sold into slavery. People tend not to destroy what they can make money from.
Paul Cartledge made the point about the Peloponnesian War being shaped by Thucydides, that it was the historian who decided that the conflicts between Athens and Sparta between 431 and 404 were a single war, not two wars broken by a period of uneasy peace. Again, there's some force to that, but I think it overprivileges Thucydides to say that this was entirely his creation - I have always felt that the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, produced in 411 BC, makes more sense if the common perception was of a war that had lasted twenty years rather than one which had lasted less than five.
Haleh Afshar made a point about disinterest in voting, and how in some places people had voted enthusiastically the first time they got the opportunity, but less so on subsequent occasions. This, of course, is something that the Athenians had to contend with - until generous assembly pay was introduced, the democracy had difficulty getting enough people to form a quorum to come to the Assembly. Afshar's point that people often would prefer to get on with their own lives, farming, or doing whatever made them money, than vote, though contested by Helena Kennedy, is recognized in ancient Athens.
The panel ended by saying that the message of Barton's play was that of Socrates, to 'Think straight'. But if the fate of Socrates tells us anything, it's that people don't like to be told to think straight. Socrates, if Plato's dialogues are any indication, went around pointing out to people that believing certain notions necessarily led to accepting other ideas they might find rather less palatable. And in the end, the Athenian people got so fed up of this that they killed him for it.