Rhesus by Euripides (?)
The evening is hot and steamy and my non English speaking taxi driver goes to great lengths to inform me we cannot go via Syntagma Square to get to Aristotle’s Philosophy Lyceum, the venue for Euripides’ Rhesus. When I finally manage to successfully negotiate my way on foot through the gracious streets adjacent to the presidential palace, the police sirens and whistle sound effects of the ‘we don’t want a Grexit’ demonstration have a curious irony as the peripetic audience is colour coded and carefully ushered into this relatively obscure ancient ruin. Set on 3 acres of prime Athens real estate, the ruins of the ancient school rooms together with the excavation mounds resemble a battle field and as the sun goes down and the immense lighting rig creates the theatre of the Trojan war we are transported into the dreamlike state from which Hector is roused.
The dreamstate is further exaggerated as a battalion of male actors slow motion their way across the fields in a sequence of four separate actions accompanied by a haunting soundscape resembling Indonesian gamelan plus French horn and timpani. Under strict instructions not to photograph this performance, the cinematic/balletic quality is enhanced sans voice with the exception of a Greek voice over reciting selected Aristotelean texts chosen from Place, On Dreams and Manners for Young People surrounding the quality of life in both the woken and dream state.
The text was repeated often as the actors engaged in different sorties and fighting activities. All the while one actor, later to be revealed as Hector, slumbered on a rusty and raised tower somewhat removed from the actions of the troops. Group by group, the audience was guided to different vantage points to watch the activities and for the benefit of the English speaking audience, to view the translation of Aristotle’s text projected on a tall and imposing wall. The effect of this ballet plus philosophy experience was hypnotic and disquieting.
However, I do recall my thoughts as to the ingenuity and solemnity of the location, the cost of the lighting rig and the magnificence of the live music and the enormous energy of the actors. Director, Katerina Evangelatos’ high regard is clearly demonstrated through the provision of funds and access to this hallowed venue.
And then the Rhesus play began. A sentry/messenger rouses Hector from his sleep with news of suspicious stirrings in the Greek camp. What ensues in the half light is a mishmash of rationales and strategies against figures of men in various states of battle fatigue. At this stage I ask myself is this what Rhesus is about? Famous opposing and allied warriors in states of self-appointed- entitlement-pique amongst infiltration, suspicion and dubious loyalties? While Euripides’ authorship is highly contested, the performance is totally faithful to the text but what this huge, hauntingly empty landscape provided, was the landscape of the mind and the foolishness that it can dictate. Instead of a reading portraying the comparative power and wiles of Homer’s account of great leaders, Euripides’ famous warriors in the hands of Evangelatos appear petulant and nonsensical with the greatest loss being a mother goddess’ loss when Rhesus (performing his well overdue duty to Hector) is slain at the hands of Diomedes. This generates great debate amongst the mortals suggesting that Rhesus’ death and the theft of his prized horses was an ‘inside job’. Again, I ask myself what is the purpose of this play? And does my uncertainty align with the scholarly discourse as to the authenticity of Euripides’ authorship? My next question as to the value of this play and the significance of its characters in the canon of Greek tragedy is answered by Evangelatos’ direction in this arid landscape of the mind – that the mind plays tricks. Evangelatos’ portrayal of the ‘game of war’ further emphasised by the actors’ childlike costumes and props plus the heavily laden interweavings of Aristotle’s considerations on the mind makes this production really work for me. On its own the text is difficult at best, but by putting this production in a dreamlike state, it has a message for us all. Perhaps again, we can apply the futility of war to the current economic and political issues in Greece – just how much of it is a perception/creation of the metaphorical mass mind?
Young people do not have bad moods. They are rather good, because they have not yet seen many examples of corrupt people. They are gullible because we have not yet taught them to cheat. </em
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