Using and Abusing Poverty
Summer season is almost over, but the 4th Forest Festival still has some aces up its sleeve to keep the audience delighted and refreshed in Thessaloniki’s nights. The Greek National Theatre, in co-production with the State Theatre of Serbia, presents Aristophanes’ Plutus, directed by Nikita Milivojevic, in an attempt to develop a network of partnerships and collaborations with major international theatres, and so far, so good.
Η καλοκαιρινή σεζόν έχει σχεδόν τελειώσει, αλλά το 4ο Φεστιβάλ Δάσους εξακολουθεί να έχει αρκετούς άσσους στο μανίκι για να κρατήσει το κοινό του ευτυχισμένο και αναζωογονημένο στις δροσερές νύχτες της Θεσσαλονίκης. Το Εθνικό Θέατρο της Ελλάδας, σε συμπαραγωγή με το Κρατικό Θέατρο της Σερβίας, παρουσιάζει τον Πλούτο του Αριστοφάνη, σε σκηνοθεσία του Nikita Milivojevic, σε μια προσπάθεια να αναπτύξει ένα δίκτυο συνεργασιών με σημαντικά διεθνή θέατρα. Και μέχρι στιγμής, όλα καλά.
La stagione estiva è quasi al termine, ma il 4° Festival della Foresta continua ad avere molte sorprese in serbo per il suo pubblico, sempre più felice e rinvigorito nelle fresche notti tessalonicesi. Il Teatro Nazionale della Grecia, in coproduzione con il Teatro Statale della Serbia, presenta la commedia Pluto di Aristofane per la regia di Nikita Milivojevic, nel tentativo di sviluppare una rete di collaborazioni con i più importanti teatri internazionali. Fino ad ora, i risultati sono più che positivi.
The rustic-pastoral setting is there: balls of hay fill the stage with poised gusto, shabbily-clothed farmers roam about with caricatural gait and a nostalgic Balkan music sets the pace for a two-hours immersion in Aristophanes’ political satire, Plutus. «Written in 388 BCE, during the Corynthian War, the Greek poet’s last surviving comedy marks a transition from the Attic Old Comedy to the New Comedy, as evidenced by the reduced role of the chorus, the limited political commentary, the subject matter (polis and the citizens), the happier undertones without too much obscene language, and, overall, a more explicitly moralistic tone. The main hero is Chremylos, a bankrupt farmer who is at a loss to understand why he lost his fortune, despite being honest and pious. Chremylos and his slave, Carion, nurse Plutus to health. Blinded by Zeus, Plutus is unable to distinguish between the just and the unjust, the honourable and the dishonourable. When Plutus finally regains his sight, justice is accordingly restored. Aristophanes’ comedy is a wink to the audience, indicating what he would consider fair in an ideal polis: everyone getting their just deserts».
Milivojevic’s take on this classic, however, is so much more than a mere wink to the Greek audience. Right off the bat, we are presented with an overly-farcical stage direction aimed at making up for the extensive and resolute rielaborations and renovations done both on the original text and its structure. With a chorus of actual musicians and a reshuffling of all ancient theatrical canons, this new-fangled Plutus is not afraid to let go of the old and to include bits and pieces of attentively selected modernity. We thus bear with Chremylos and Carion while Plutus the tattered god blissfully pees all over the stage, time and again ending up among the audience during his mid-scene blind strolls, or we speechlessly look at Aesculapius’ healing session wondering what in the world is going on, not at all helped by his makeshift interpreter of a sexed-up priestess/nurse, all the while being showered by a profusion of innuendos, witty remarks, slapstick bravado and utter nonsense.
Comedy is not about the laughs only, though, and the Serbian director knows it well. Just as Aristophanes overtly sought to shake the sensitivity of his fellow citizens, so Milivojevic seeks to offer a contemporary view on the eternal question of wealth distribution and injustice: «the 100 richest people on the planet have accumulated more wealth than half the world’s population. Whether Plutus is blind or has the ability to see is completely irrelevant: what matters is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer». And this is where one of the most elaborated characters of the opus comes into play, Poverty.
Used by both directors to show the inanity of a just society based only on the elimination of pecuniary differences, this second beggar (and here lies Aristophanes’ brilliance, for both Wealth and Poverty are but ragged clothes we keep wearing to hide our raw humanity) argues with Chremylos, trying to curb his enthusiasm over his utopia of economic and social egalitarianism. Through a whirling and hilarious reductio ad absurdum between the goddess and the pious countrymen – stripped of its original analogies and updated with much vitriol (Don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Poverty, your best friend from Greece!) – Milivojevic indulges in a metatheatrical moment in order to grab the audience by the scruff of the neck and send his message through: «Greece and Serbia (and the entire Balkans in a broader sense), are two sides of the same coin in Plutus’s small change. Our role in this endlessly topical global comedy is always the same: for us, there is no difference between heads or tails». A message that is reinforced and reiterated throughout the play (and especially at the newly-devised end, where everyone is left empty-handed and ridiculed in the face of their own naivety) with scathing ingenuity, filling the gaps between words with new meaning and images, hinting at the risks of being carried away by the persuasive strength of appeals to wealth as the only true solution and, conversely, of poverty as the only problem.
The show was played at
Forest of Seich Sou – Thessaloniki
6 September 2018
the National Theatre of Greece presents
Plutus – Πλούτος
direction Nikita Milivojevic
set design Kenny MacLellan
costumes Marina Medenica
music Angelos Triantafillos
lighting Alekos Anastasiou
choreography Amalia Venett
cast Giorgos Gallos, Manolis Mavromatakis, Vassilis Charalambopoulos, Manos Vakousis, Galini Hatzipashali, Yiannis Kotsifas, Kostas Koroneos, Michalis Titopoulos, Maria Diakopanagiotou and chorus of musicians from the Orchestra of the National Theatre in Belgrade