The Measles of Mankind
The National Theatre of Northern Greece knocks once again at the Athens & Epidaurus Festival’s doors with a play by Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, showing an unexpectedly patriotic face in a very dangerous political framework that could tilt the precarious balance of the Greek society, shattering its glass bones with a blow of nationalistic air.
Το Κρατικό Θέατρο Βορείου Ελλάδος χτυπά για άλλη μια φορά στις πόρτες του Φεστιβάλ Αθηνών & Επιδαύρου με ένα έργο του Ευριπίδη, η Ιφιγένεια η εν Αυλίδι, παρουσιάζοντας ένα απροσδόκητα πατριωτικό πρόσωπο σε ένα πολύ επικίνδυνο πολιτικό πλαίσιο, το οποίο θα μπορούσε να σπάσει την επισφαλή ισορροπία της ελληνικής κοινωνίας, κομματιάζοντας τα γυάλινα οστά της με ένα φύσημα εθνικιστικού αέρα.
Il Teatro Nazionale della Grecia del Nord bussa ancora una volta alle porte del Festival di Atene & Epidauro con un’opera di Euripide, l’Ifigenia in Aulide, dando mostra di un volto inaspettatamente patriottico in tempi politicamente difficili che potrebbero portare alla fine del precario equilibrio in cui si trova a vacillare la società greca, sull’orlo di frantumarsi le ossa di vetro per un colpo d’aria nazionalistico.
The Peloponnesian War is not over yet, and the ferocious civil conflict between brothers (Sparta and Athens) is but the spark that will ignite the ensuing Corinthian war, which will see Persia (the “barbarians”) impose its terms on Greece. In this context, the Protagorean stage philosopher, «the critical rationalist who deposed the gods […] in a time when they were still very much alive in the faith of his fellow citizens», Euripides, dedicates his latter years of life to conclude the last of the five Trojans plays, Iphigeneia in Aulis.
The tragedy focuses on the decision taken by Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Achaeans, to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia so that the Greek fleet, which is becalmed in Aulis, can set sail for Troy. When it is revealed to Agamemnon by the seer Calchas that the lack of wind is the goddess Artemis’ doing, the general summons Iphigeneia to Aulis on the pretext that she is to marry the Achaeans’ greatest warrior Achilles before they depart for the war. Faced with a terrible dilemma, since he will have to choose between his daughter and his homeland, Agamemnon feels duty-bound to proceed with the sacrifice, ignoring the pleas of Clytemestra, Iphigenia, Achilles, and even Menelaus himself. Ultimately, noble Iphigeneia reconciles herself to her tragic fate and agrees to be sacrificed for the good of her homeland. At the end of the play, a messenger announces to Clytemestra that Iphigeneia vanished off the altar before the fatal blow was struck.
By making extensive and intelligent use of the rhetoric of “panhellenism”, the «appeal to an expansionist war against barbaric Asia which would unite Greek city-states and put an end to their divisions», the tragic poet becomes an herald of patriotism and, willingly or not, depicts a highly subjective system of political beliefs which change according to the mouth that utters the idealism – be it personal interest, fear, victimization, aggression or naivety. «Thus in Iphigeneia in Aulis, Euripides retroactively calls the Greeks “Hellenes” and “Panhellenes”. This naming had nothing to do with the past, which has now passed into the jurisdiction of poetry and legends, but rather looks ahead to the future. As a high priest of panhellenism, Euripides views Troy in flames as a vast beacon transmitting its flaming message to the divided Greeks. If they don’t receive and understand the signal in time and continue to spill their blood in futile internecine conflicts, they will share the Trojans’ fate», purports the insightful Greek translator of the play, Pantelis Boukalas.
The striking feature of director Yiannis Kalavrianos’ take on this gendered tale of self-sacrifice in the name of the Nation, net of an unremarkable stage direction, an inconsequential choreography and a run-of-the-mill interpretation by the cast, is the utterly stunning lack of empathy with our times. No matter how one looks at it, the choice of staging Euripides’ tragedy in the hic et nunc of a Greece at the gates of deep socio-political changes (one of the most divisive national elections is taking place 4 days after the opening night) is not only imprudent – turning a once patriotic message (now as then of unity against the Other) into spoiled fodder for cheap nationalisms, fanatic pride and untimely applauses (dampened out by the embarrassed silence of an audience taken aback by its own tacky self-righteousness) in a time where the ghost of fascism has never been so hefty – but also naïve. Reading the director’s note attached to the play, one can but wonder where does Kalavrianos (and the National Theatre of Northern Greece as an institution) sees the necessity of staging this specific tragedy at this specific time in history, what interpretation of the text brings about the «future quest for a utopia in which the individual will not be crushed by the demands of society, where prudence reigns and personal happiness and the greater good are one and the same» and, ultimately, how come no one pointed out the elephant in the room: a patriotic play staged in patriotic times makes for a patriotic theatre; is this what the NTNG is all about?
The show was played at
Forest of Seich Sou – Thessaloniki
Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 July
The National Theatre of Northern Greece presents
Iphigenia in Aulis – Ιφιγένεια η εν Αυλίδι
translation Pantelis Boukalas
direction Yannis Kalavrianos
cast Yorgos Glastras, Anthi Efstratiadou, Yorgos Kafkas, Nikolas Marangopoulos, Thanasis Raftopoulos, Christos Stylianou, Maria Tsima
chorus Momo Vlachou, Stellina Vogiatzi, Despina Giannopoulou, Ioanna Demertzidou, Danae Epithymiadi, Aigli Katsiki, Leda Koutsodaskalou, Maria Konstanta, Alexia Beziki, Zoi Mylona, Marianthi Pantelopoulou, Katerina Papadaki, Revecca Tsiligaridou
sets and costumes Alexandra Bousoulega, Rania Yfantidou
music composition-music coaching-sound design Thodoris Economou
movement Dimitris Sotiriou
lighting Nikos Vlasopoulos
1st assistant director Alexia Beziki
2nd assistant director Haris Pechlivanidis
set & costume design assistants Elina Eftaxia, Isabela Tudorache
stills photography Tasos Thomoglou
production Marleen Verschuuren, Maria Lazaridou
on-stage musician Dimitris Chountis