by Costas Hadjigeorgiou
As published in In Focus Vol. 9, No. 3, Sept 2012
16th International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama
The month of July was rich in cultural events with the 16th International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama and the 12th Symposium of Ancient Greek Drama amongst the most significant ones. They were both held under the auspices of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The Festival performances started on July 4th and ended on July 31st. They were given in three venues: the ancient Odeon of Paphos, the ancient theatre of Curium outside Limassol and the Makarios III Amphitheatre in Nicosia. The Festival hosted eight theatre companies from Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Israel and Cyprus. This year’s Festival, while maintaining its intercultural identity, moved in three directions: Five of the productions were adaptations based on the original Greek texts, two were presentations of the original plays and one an operatic version of Sophocles’ Antigone.
The Festival opened with Agamemnon’s Children, a production by the Hessian State Theatre, Wiesbaden, Germany. The adaptation text by Dagmar Bormann and Konstanze Lauterbach, who also directed the production, put together into a single storyline Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis, Orestes and Iphigeneia in Tauris as well as Sophocles’ Electra. The group worked in admirable unison and told the story with verve and dramatic fluency. The interpretation of the characters was marked by high quality acting. The stage narration depicted with great clarity the violence and the great pain and suffering that stem from the cycle of vengeance inherent in the legend of the Atridae dwelling, of course, mostly on Iphigeneia’s fate, who, here, does not return to Greece but kills herself. This is obviously a deviation from the original story. It is an attempt to show the existential dead ends created by power politics and psychological motives in the contemporary world.
The production of the Cyprus Theatre Organisation entitled Electra, Orestes, the Trial moved in the same direction. It was an adaptation based on Sophocles’ Electra, Euripides’ Orestes and Aeschylus’ Eumenides, which is the third play of his trilogy, the Oresteia, Both the adaptation and the direction belonged to the Israeli stage director Hanan Snir, well-known to Cypriot audiences from his superb production of Sophocles’ Antigone, that took part in the Festival of 2008 with Israel’s ‘Cameri’ and Habimah’ Theatres. In his adaptation Snir followed the original texts closely and managed to invest it with dramatic intensity, which he skillfully translated into stage action that captivated his audience throughout the performance. Through the powerful interpretations of the main roles and the inventive use of costume he successfully showed the relevance of ancient drama to today’s world.
The production of Euripides’ Bacchae by the Mitos Theatre Group, Cyprus, was another dramaturgical adaptation that belonged to Elena Agathocleous and Rania Iacovou. The production, directed by Lucas Walewski, was experimental. It was approached from a post-dramatic perspective, which focused more on the body and the voice of the actors. The narration concentrated on Pentheus and his demise which is, of course, the central theme of the play. However, the conflict between Pentheus and Dionysus lost much of its dramatic intensity as Dionysus had no physical presence on the stage but mentioned in the singing and the discourse of the Chorus. Similarly Agave’s suffering and pain, which resulted from realizing that she had killed her son, did not come through. It was simply mentioned at the beginning as a piece of information. However, as a piece of experimental work it was very well prepared and successfully presented.
The Festival presented two more productions connected with the legend of the Atridae, which were not adaptations, Sophocles’ Electra and Aeschylus’ Eumenides. Electra was presented by the Greek Theatre Company ‘Morphes Ekfrasis’. The director, Thomas Kindinis, used a poetic translation from the original text into Modern Greek by Ioannis Gryparis himself an accomplished classicist and poet. In his stage approach, Kindinis worked within the conventions and used them to a good advantage to give us a successful performance. Of the interpretation of the roles Zoe Nalpanti’s Electra and Thomas Kindinis’ Tutor to Orestes stood out. The Chorus too was very effective in its well-thought-out movement and clear enunciation of its verses. It was a performance that brought out the poetry of the text, something that today’s audiences rarely experience in contemporary translations and productions.
The production of the Eumenides was by the Israeli Ruth Kanner Theatre Group. The Hebrew text that the director Ruth Kanner, used was a translation from Ted Hughes’ poetic translation, into English of the original Greek text. In her stage approach, Kanner, followed an unconventional perspective and presented a very effective performance. There was not a moment of unevenness in the acting out of the roles. The actors and the director, through their sustained efforts, showed very eloquently how the eternal destructive forces in human society can be transformed into creative forces of reconciliation and peace, very relevant to present-day reality. However, the didactic tone which, for obvious reasons was given to the end of the performance by overemphasing the motif of peace, was, in my opinion, unnecessary.
Obviously tragedy dominated the programme of the Festival. However, comic relief could not have been absent. It came with two comedies by Aristophanes’ The Assembly Women and Frogs. The tendency to connect ancient theatre with contemporary reality prevailed here too. So both productions were adaptations of the Aristophanic texts, although Vassilis Mavrogeorgiou prefers to call his adaptation of The Assembly Women “a free rendering” of the original text. The production was by the ‘Neos Cosmos Theatre’, Greece. The performance we saw, under the direction of Vangelis Theodoropoulos had subtlety and humour and was enthusiastically received by the audience. It was free from the phallic vulgarities and obscenities common to most contemporary productions of Aristophanes and there was no overacting or loud gestures in the interpretation of the roles.
The production of the Frogs by the Magdalena Zira and her Theatre Group Cyprus, was also enthusiastically received by its audience. Magdalena Zira adapted the play from a translation of the original by Vayos Liapis. She also directed it. In her adaptation and stage approach she managed to recast the Frogs in such a way as to reflect contemporary reality, especially the hardships faced by theatre artists. This came through in a subtle, indirect way by focusing on the poetry contest of the original, which, in essence, constitutes a play within the play. She too avoided loud gestures and overacting. Nicholas Kokkinos was brilliant in his role of Dionysus. The interpretation of the other roles were quite effective with the exception of Demetris Antoniou in the role of Aeschylus, who lacked subtlety and sophistication. Elena Katsouris’ costumes as well as Lefteris Moumtzis’ music contributed most positively to the effectiveness of the performance.