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What a drama

By Alix Norman

Running from July 1 to July 30, the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama combines tradition and modernism in a month-long theatrical extravaganza. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival is one of the longest-standing institutions on the cultural calendar, and a modern take on some of the greatest plays in history. Preserving the uniqueness of Greek drama – enriched by a contemporary approach – ensures this is a series of events which is entirely relevant in our modern-day world.

Featuring the works of Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes, the five plays revolve around those age-old themes of love, power, revenge, betrayal and sacrifice. The leitmotifs, as it were, of humanity – prevalent in every corner of this world – which make these ancient masterpieces accessible to the people of all nations, whether they’re reading the script, watching the play or treading the boards…
Over the years, as the festival has increased in scope, more and more international theatre companies have become involved. Britain, Germany, Portugal, Croatia, Russia, America and even China have all, in the past, sent groups of performers to this prestigious event.

This year, it’s Spain, Serbia and Israel who represent the world at large, with their much-anticipated versions of the classics. Audiences, too, have expanded since the festival’s inception; the number of foreign viewers escalating with the promotion, recognition and cultural reach of the event. Especially since its inclusion in the official programme of European Capital of Culture – Pafos 2017.

However, it’s not only the western shores of our island that will be reaping the benefits: performances will be taking place all over Cyprus, in venues eminently suited to the subject matter. Dating back to the second century AD, the Paphos Odeon will be hosting the opening night, while Nicosia sees a similar number of shows at the Skali Amphitheatre in Aglangia. And no festival of ancient Greek Drama would be complete without the magnificence of Ancient Curium as a backdrop – against which this year’s playwrights are represented in their entirety.

The line-up begins with Euripides’ Medea, a staggering tragedy of betrayal and revenge performed by local group Theatro Ena. Chosen to open the festival, it’s a true study of the secret folds and recesses of all-consuming passion: “In no other play has Euripides portrayed such a powerful and subversive female figure as Medea, or such a radical critique of male tradition and authority,” says director Andreas Christodoulides.

Stirring words indeed, and a hard act to follow. But the National Theatre of Belgrade are up for the challenge, with their rendition of Sophocles’ equally tragic Antigone. Adding a unique blend of Serbian colour to this traditional tragedy, director Jagoš Marković has taken a refreshing contemporary approach: “Antigone’s act represents an essential, great and compassionate act of freedom and love. She does not care which side he fought for; she respects his sacrifice; she loves him and buries the man, her brother…”

Lightening things up a bit, Aristophenes’ comedy Peace reflects the human desire for a peaceful life, free of wars and bloodshed. Courtesy of the newly-formed Yiolanta Christodoulou Theatre Group, it’s a play that probes “the conquest of freedom and the prevalence of Peace, Democracy and Prosperity” in the words of the director, Yiolanta Christodoulou herself.

It’s followed by Spanish company Induo Teatro Producciones’ take on Euripides’ Hippolytus Kalyptomenos; a play mostly lost to the ravages of time, thanks to the displeasure of the original audience. Viewers today, however, will no doubt be thrilled by director Jose Manuel Sánchez’s reconstruction, “a testimony of what was the true composition by Euripides, when the dilemma between passion and reason was manifested”.
Closing the event, The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv presents Electra, a work which typifies what many believe is Sophocles’ most creative period. Veterans of the festival, this Israeli group is led by director Kfir Azoulai, whose version of the play has already received rave reviews in his home country. “The concept,” he says, “in this production of Electra, derives from the conviction that revenge cannot bring redemption. Obsessed with revenge for generations, the Atreus family has become victims and murderers chased by demons they themselves created, and prisoners of this obsession for revenge…”

It’s clearly not called drama for nothing! And while it’s certainly ancient – and Greek – the diverse interpretations ensure that this is a festival that remains fresh year after year. First-time viewer or long-time fan, you’re in for a stirring month!

The International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama
July 1 and July 30 at a variety of locations. All performances start at 9pm. For more details, visit www.greekdramafest.com. Greek performances are presented with English surtitles and foreign performances with Greek and English surtitles. Entrance costs €10 (€5 for students, senior citizens and National Guard / free to thosewith disabilities after proof of ID). Tickets are available from SOEASY Kiosks in all cities,TIME OUT Kiosk in Paphos and online at www.SoldoutTickets.com.cy

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