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Love, power and revenge

Now in its 20th year, the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama is one of the highlights of the cultural calendar. Combining tradition and modernism in a month-long theatrical extravaganza, the festival provides a contemporary take on some of the most important plays in history, and the playwrights who have scripted the path of theatre down the ages…

Collectively, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and Menander are the five writers who have affected every aspect of the dramatic arts. And (with the exception of Menander, whose work has been mostly lost and is known in modernity in a highly fragmentary form) their common themes of love, power, revenge, betrayal and sacrifice are just as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. And 2016 brings five new interpretations of the classics, from theatre companies both local and foreign.

Opening the festivities on July 3 is Aristophanes’ multifaceted comedy, Thesmophoriazusae (often called ‘The Poet and the Women’) – one of the playwright’s three surviving ‘female’ comedies. Outlining human weakness with a charming sense of humour and scathing irony, the play highlights the subversive role of women in a male-dominated society, the vanity of contemporary poets and the shameless, enterprising vulgarity of an ordinary Athenian, as represented by the protagonist Mnesilochus. First performed around 411BC in the City Dionysia, today’s version comes courtesy of director Minas Tigkilis and the local ETHAL (Limassol Theatre Development Company) group, who will be staging three performances on July 3 (Paphos Ancient Odeon), July 9 (Curium, Limassol) and July 11 (Makarios III Amphitheatre, Nicosia).

Next up, with two performances (July 5 at Curium, and July 7 at the Makarios III Amphitheatre) is German company Theater Krefeld und Mönchengladbach, presenting Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers (The Choephori), translated by Peter Stein and directed by Matthias Gehrt. Two tales from Aeschylus’ trilogy Oresteia, the first of the plays details Agamemnon’s homecoming after the Trojan War, while the second deals with the reunion of Agamemnon’s vengeful children, Electra and Orestes.

We’re back to both Cyprus and Aristophanes for the third production, as local group Ftochologia present the playwright’s last comedy Plutus (oft known simply as Wealth). First produced in 408BC, this is a political satire on contemporary Athens, featuring the personified god of wealth – known, of course, as Plutus – in a scathing critique of the all-too-human quest for riches. A comment on social injustice, the unfair distribution of wealth, and corruption, director Kostas Silvestros seems to have made an eminently topical choice with this play – catch his interpretation on July 19 (Makarios III Amphitheatre, Nicosia), July 22 (Paphos Ancient Odeon) and July 23 (Curium).

Participating for the first time in the festival, the De Roovers group of Belgium brings another interpretation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Translated into English by renowned poet Ted Hughes, then into Dutch by Bernard Dewulf, and finally surtitled on stage in both Greek and English, this trilogy charts “three murders, three culprits; their demons, their fate and their moral dilemmas constitute the vicious circle of revenge that is interrupted by the new order of things.” Performed on July 25 at the Paphos Ancient Odeon and July 27 at the Makarios III Amphitheatre in Nicosia, audiences are assured that “the original text is preserved, punctuated with excerpts from contemporary writers.”

Ending the festival is 5th Season Art of Greece, with two performances – both taking place at Curium – of Sophocles’ Antigone, on July 29 and July 30. Translated by Panayiota Pandazi and directed by Themis Moumoulidis, the last of the plays is billed as “a contemporary approach to the masterly tragedy presented in a poetic visual environment, complemented by the contemporary music of Stavros Gasparatos.”
And that’s your lot: five sparkling interpretations of the classics, all performed in the open air and under the auspices of European Capital of Culture – Pafos2017. It’s ancient, it’s Greek, it’s dramatic – and when you’re living on a Mediterranean island steeped in theatrical tradition, surely it’s worth checking out the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama?

The International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama
July 3 to 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 those with disabilities after proof of ID). Tickets are available from www.soldouttickets.com.cy and at selected SOEASY kiosks in all cities.

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