The International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama continues next week with two performances, in Paphos and Nicosia, of Euripides’ Bacchae.
The performances will be presented by the award-winning Israeli director Yair Sherman. This will be a contemporary reading of the play with an exciting directorial approach and a highly aesthetic result, in the production that won Sherman the Golden Porcupine for Best Director at the Tmuna Theatre in Tel Aviv in 2016.
Bacchae is the last play by Euripides. During the writing of the play he was in exile, after being forced to leave Athens. A short time after arriving in Macedonia, Euripides died without ever seeing his last play performed in the Dionysus amphitheatre in his home city of Athens.
In this play, which is being staged under the auspices of the Embassy of the State of Israel in Cyprus, Dionysus is seen as a humanised god who wishes to enforce his own worship. It is set in the city of Thebes, which is governed by the young king Pentheus who has just risen to power. A mysterious stranger appears in the city, claiming to be the messenger of an unfamiliar god – Dionysus. The king refuses to accept the Dionysian ritual and, as a consequence of the king’s denial, the charismatic stranger lures the women of the city, led by Agave – the king’s mother – to the insanity of nature rituals, dances, massive orgies and free love. Law and rituals are at conflict, boundaries between people, social order, gender and age are abolished. The matter becomes personal as the two leaders go head to head. The struggle ends with a horrifying, unpredictable and inconceivable murder that brings destruction to the house of Cadmus and leaves behind a bloody nightmare.
It is usually said that Bacchae is the greatest masterpiece by Euripides, and that it sealed the Athenian golden age. Two years after it was written, Athens was struck a final blow by Sparta during the Peloponnesian war, and never regained its greatness. Euripides’s tragedy, Sherman said, may be considered, in that context, a relevant work for its time, since it foretells the events waiting to unfold.
In his notes on the play, Sherman says: “My idea of working on an ancient Greek drama today is to bring a contemporary interpretation to classic writings. I always find a way to make the play personal, since the core is relevant; it touches my life today on a deep personal level. All ancient Greek dramas are extremely political, and through them I am able to express both political and personal questions that have no one answer but many different perspectives on what is true or false.”
Sherman believes that, as long as the drama exists, there will always be a reason for new adaptations and he hopes to “bring new life into the old and magnificent texts of ancient Greek drama.”
Speaking about his method of bringing an ancient play to a modern audience, the director says: “The first thing I look for when I start to work on a new play is a string that ties it all together. Like a spinal cord, or the beating heart of the drama. In the case of The Bacchae it is obvious that the story follows Dionysus’s revenge. The challenge was to understand what it is for, and whether it has anything to do with me in a deeper, more existential aspect.”
Performance of the play by Euripides. July 26. Ancient Odeon, Paphos. 9pm. €10/5. With Greek and English subtitles. Tel: 26-932017
July 28. Skali Aglandjias, Nicosia. 9pm. €10/5. With Greek and English subtitles. In Greek. Tel: 22-462233