Why Theatre History? is the title of David Wiles’ introductory chapter in the 2013 publication of The Oxford Companion to Theatre History. It is a provocative title and an equally provocative question. Indeed, why does theatre history matter and why in this instance am I going to the financial and intellectual bother to trace it? And above all what do I hope to gain from it?
Similiarly to one of the Wiles cohort’s response to the same question, I am doing it because I love theatre and I love finding more about the thing I love. Mysteriously, theatre has become a raison d’etre and the theatre practitioner and teacher in me has reckoned that there is an audience of individuals out there who really do want to engage more with theatre than is generally available. That an appreciation of the history and development of world theatre can enrich and deeply satisfy the audience experience. But this exploration is not just about famous writers, actors or directors doing their famous thing … it is also about place. And with place comes the signature, the colour, the richness of the work. Shakespeare is England, Cervantes is Castile, Chekov is Russia and Aeschylus is Athens.
This is not an armchair exploration this is also an expedition to travel to those epicentres of tragedy and comedy that have so enriched the narratives of world theatre.
In reality, it might take many years to cover the whole world and all aspects of world theatre, but then again, think of the performances one will have seen in Greece, in Spain, in Paris, Dublin, London and Kerala. All the world is indeed a stage…
So why this particular theatre history? Because it’s cultural, colourful, fun, romantic and it’s travel at its most exciting. Please join me.
The day is incredibly hot and I’m sitting in the Athens bus terminal at Kifissos. It is the hottest place I remember with bus exhaust fumes and an open air arrangement with the bus exhaust fumes and an open air arrangement with the only protection being a roof. Even a venture into a terminal cafe turned out to be hotter inside than out. Like in all parts of the world, one wonders how people manage to catch the right bus and especially, me. My excitement is palpable as I’ve metro’d it into Omonia to buy a bus ticket this morning in case the theatre bus was full when I arrived at 5 pm and I couldn’t get on.
Understandably services and Festival programmes are being cancelled due to the economic situation and the Electra that I had booked from Australia for last night was cancelled due to an actress injury. How was I to know? Just lucky I guess. I went to the website to get the address of the theatre and there was the announcement – ‘more shows cancelled.’ It seems that several productions have not opened at all.
Tonight, however, I’m off to theatre heaven at Epidavros, hence my unmitigated excitement. I can overlook the heat, the chaos of the bus station and my uncertainty of getting there by just focussing on seeing the metaphorical ‘curtain’ go up on Ajax in four hours time. When I told the hotel receptionist I was coming to this event, she said, as she clutched her heart, ‘that is a sacred place.’ And that’s exactly how it feels – making that homage no matter what.
The theatre poster with a deranged and bloodied Ajax carrying a bloodied sheep is extraordinarily evocative and here I am now sitting on the nearly full Epidavros bound bus. Clearly there are many other classics lovers that are ready to share the experience. I’m also very happy that my exploration of all of Sophocles’ works earlier in the year familiarized me with this play and I’m very excited to see how Ajax unfolds on this hallowed stage.
Right now we have just passed over the Corinth Canal and the deep blue Aegean Sea is on the left of the bus. People are swimming, big cargo boats are doing their thing and I might even spot an inter island ferry. Quite perfect. To my right are the magnificent Peloponnese with the silvery green of the olive trees on the plain meeting the darker green of the conifers on the mountain and below there is the sea with random islands of random sizes jutting up at will.
On arrival at Epidavros, there is a bus driver announcement I don’t understand and I ask a travelling companion as to the content – 20 minutes after the play the bus with return to Athens. The responder is delightful, Magda, travelling with her mother, Sophia, and with whom I spent the rest of the evening, despite Sophia continuing to address me in Greek, as she doesn’t speak any English, whereas Magda is delightfully, totally fluent.
And now to the play itself, Ajax by Sophocles. In many ways this was the most traditional presentation of a tragedy that I’ve seen presented at this site. In the first instance, the players and musicians entered the space in a musically accompanied procession which was at once aurally arresting and visually appealing as they crossed the rear of the stage in half light in what could be regarded as an homage to Dionysus, or simply a way of attracting audience attention as in No theatre. Whatever the intention, it worked. The instrumentation was haunting, and although using what I regarded as contemporary instruments including a trombone, there was a true sense of lament and dramatic expectation. In keeping with the notion of what is believed to be the traditional use of music, song and dance in Greek tragedy, this was the first time I have ever seen it implemented. A ‘troubadour type’ of character playing a balalaika sang the prologue and some of the chorus speeches were also sung. There is a moment in the play when the chorus proclaims:
I would dance, I am bent upon dancing! …
Wild, high, excited dances, Mysian, Cnosian –
I would dance, I am bent upon dancing!
I found it a strange utterance when I read the play sometime back, but this director made good use of it and it became a sort of a Zorba moment – when there’s nothing else to be done – just dance. Sadly for me the dance wasn’t as evocative as Zorba’s but with the whole of the chorus breaking into dance, the tension of the piece was satisfactorily altered.
Another nod to the tradition of the form was the erection of a type of skene with an open front where the musicians and chorus congregated when not on stage. The play itself could be regarded as a story of post war trauma, where Ajax, having defeated Achilles at Troy, is enraged when Achilles’ armour is awarded to Odysseus and not him. Deeply offended by this injustice, Ajax turns his anger into blind fury, which in turn, leads to the unhinging of his mind and he runs amok with his sword and the intention of annihilating his fellow Greeks. [One cannot but help think of the anger and rage of Vietnam veterans and the enormity of their psychological disturbance.] Fortunately for Ajax however, Athena steps in and instead of Ajax slaughtering humans, he slaughters cattle and sheep.
Odysseus enters the story looking for the slaughterer of the stock only to find Athena who tells him to reconsider his own actions in the event. As the play unfolds we are presented with the ‘morality’ of Greek tragedy where the individual is pitted against the state, in this case Ajax, the warrior, against the wily Odysseus and the establishment, representing a new order of things.
In his abject humiliation, Ajax announces his resolve to throw himself on his sword to end his misery. What ensues is a lengthy discourse about the merits of the man and how to prevent him suiciding – which does not happen.
I think this an overwritten play and one that is extremely challenging to stage. The physical appearance of Athena on stage is a first as is someone committing suicide and the extensive use of music and dance seems to have originated from Sophocles’ own juvenile experiences as a chorus member. The director, Vangelis Theodoropoulos, led the logistics quite well but I felt the quality of the acting, or perhaps it was the inexperience of the actors, prevented a magical and seamless engagement with the intensity of the text.
As always the audience was highly appreciative and I too, am highly appreciative of being able to see Greek tragedy in this hallowed theatre.
[During my research for this article I found a most accessible translation:
With a gap in my theatre going schedule, I headed off to see this famed island of Atlantis. Previously I had avoided this excursion due to the intense popularity of the place as a tourist destination. However spurred on by the call of Plato and his descriptions of Atlantis in Timaeus, I purchased a two day tour which I extended by a further day. I never cease to marvel at the way tour companies organise your travel and just turn up to collect you, deposit you at the ferry, have your name on a card waiting at the other end and so on and so forth. I am mightily impressed especially in a place like Santorini where Internet is temperamental to say the least! Arriving after a 5 hour ferry ride, I quickly check into my rustic hotel, book a tour to Akritori for the next day and then head off to discover the locale of Kamari. A somewhat predictable summer resort with the same sort of shops as every other seaside resort, I saw a huge queue for a bus and following the advice of the local travel agent jumped on board to get a bit of night life in Fira.
At E1.20 the bus ticket was the best value ever. It felt like we travelled about k30 across these volcanic hills to reach the most precarious city one could imagine. Perched on the edge of the volcano’s caldera, 980 ft above sea level, shops, hotels and restaurants abound through the steep little lane ways. And there it was – one of the famous sunset scenes that we get on friends’ postcards. The depth of the caldera at 400 meters enables all but the biggest of ships to anchor in its protective harbour.
So what is it that makes Santorini so spectacular? Firstly it’s a place of unbelievable contrast. The empty, rocky landscape with pumice stone and lava innocently sitting amongst stunted grapevines, tomatoes, aubergine, wild capers and pistachio trees. And then there is the Aegean Sea that never fails to deliver that extraordinary deep, deep blue with the little white caps – the colours of the Greek flag.
Then there are the cave houses and churches, said to be 365 of them, one for every day of the year. But without a doubt, the highlight for me was Akrotiri. Said to be the second most important site in Greece after the Acropolis in Athens, Akrotiri, only discovered in 1967, is considered to be the lost city of Atlantis. At the entrance gate there is a 70 ton volcano stone and this sort of volcanic evidence is everywhere.
The stunted vegetation being so because of the sea winds and not needing to be any higher because of the richness of the volcanic soil. And the taste of the fruit and vegetables is spectacular. As is Akrotiri. A Minoan Bronze Age settlement the volcano is thought to have occurred 1627 BC.
On entering the archaeologically protected site, one is struck by the white lava powder that covers almost everything. Excavations on this site were discontinued because of the Greek austerities but there is enough evidence to indicate that a city with a 5 storied bastion existed here. With city streets, plumbing, houses, shops, bathroom accoutrements, bedrooms and beds, olive oil jars and household decorations significantly intact, the somewhat eerie thing is that there is no evidence of any dead bodies or funerary apparatus which suggests that the people just left.
It appears that even though the site displays earthquake protections, somehow the inhabitants seemed aware of the approaching volcano and gathered up their belongings and went who knows where. When I asked about archeologist’s faith in Plato’s account of the city, the beautiful, engaging and highly intelligent tour guide turned up her nose and claimed a lack of chronological veracity. I was somewhat saddened by that as I was always intrigued by Plato’s description of a racecourse in the city.
The famous frescoes of the Boxing Boys, the Spring fresco, the mother and daughter and more have been removed and placed in museums elsewhere. This was an intriguing visit and with years perhaps even centuries of excavation still to go, who knows what else might be discovered. The remainder of the day was some sightseeing with a tour guide, a fabulous lunch of local Santorini fare, a visit to the famous Santorini winery and then, for me, dinner with a charming Canadian I’d met the night before.
Next day an 11 hour ferry trip back to Athens was exhausting, arriving at 11.30pm at new hotel digs and a total wipe out.
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
When the best laid plans to travel with a group of theatre lovers go astray, this year I have opted for further exploration of Greek theatre in Athens and Epidavros, combined with some R&R after finishing at Whitley. Today 5 July is a very significant day for Greeks as it is the day the country responds to a referendum to support or refuse the existing offer on an EU economic bail out. After all the hype of television reporting I decided to come to Syntagma to see for myself. So far the biggest crowd is a group of tourists across the road at parliament watching the dancing soldiers. Weather wise, it’s a perfect 30 degrees with a gentle breeze while people take a Sunday afternoon stroll around the square watched by a bevy of local and international television reporters.
It feels like a gentle calm with people heading to the beach and tourists like me sitting under canvas to take tea, ice cream, pizza and greek salad. It’s all very normal I expect and me being extra delighted by the arrival of honey with my tea without asking. Somehow for me there is a sense of democracy in action in the country that created it 2000 years ago, despite the English 20 something’s at the next table talking about the comfort of their shoes.
My hotel is 2 metro stops away from Syntagma (train tix suspended because banks are closed) in a quiet leafy area so close to the Acropolis I feel I could stretch out and touch it. On the down side the boutique nature of the accommodation leaves little room for me to manouver past my suitcase to even get to the fabulous balcony view.
Tonight I’m heading out to see Pathos Allos theatre do a potted presentation of Greek drama. Fingers crossed that it is on!
Sadly, after negotiating the trolley buses, a good deal of walking and asking for directions, the theatre is securely closed. There is no indication or signage as to why there is no performance this evening and speculation from the locals I engaged with ranges from closure due to the austerities through to closure because it is the day people are voting.
The richness of my exchanges with people are indelibly etched in my travelers’ memory. The trolley bus driver who said he did not speak English. The young corporate lawyer who said that he spoke English and his subsequent enquiry of the bus driver as to where the theatre might be. The bus driver could be regarded as surly or resistant with his clipped or terse responses in Greek as he was delivering a bus load of quietly anxious Greeks to their physical destinations on this auspicious day. After further chatter, the multi-linguistic young lawyer disembarked and following several more starts and stops, the bus drivers turns to me and says ‘next stop.’
Another exchange in a humble ouserie where the stout, middle aged and clearly anxious non English speaking proprietress tried to solve my theatre problem while I sipped an overly large Heineken. Anxiety was palpable in the spotless establishment as two elderly men watched the street passers-by while their ouzo seemed untouched on the table in front of them. The television was turned on for election news. I proffered two five euro notes to pay for the Heineken. The proprietress takes only one and brings me some change which I leave with her. Of course, she could have charged me what she liked and I would be none the wiser. Unlike the young waiter at Syntagma who shortchanged me for my tea. In my mind I had already resolved to tip him one euro for a three euro tea, but rather than challenge him for his miscalculation on this feisty day, I left without issue and without further tipping. So what is the difference? And what makes one taxi driver give a discount because he was unsure of the destination while another blatantly claims the meter charge after a more significant and more blatant driving error? And why do I care sufficiently to write about it letter by letter on the iPad? Is it because these exchanges provide an insight into the character of a nation or simply the character of an individual? And when one is unable to speak the language one loses the nuances that provide the all important clues.
Theatre going has been somewhat less than in other years with my first theatre booking The Trojan Women being aborted due to the late arrival of my plane from Milan. However two subsequent productions have been most satisfying. Socrates Now, is a one man show that I’ve known about for years. It has travelled across the globe, including Australia, and is now in its fourth summer season in Athens. Presented by the eminent Emmy Award winning actor, Yannis Simonides, the production takes place on the Acropolis very near the spot where Socrates was incarcerated. Simonides firstly appears as a mirthful, ungainly and masked Socrates, before unmasking and disrobing to reveal the simplicity of the man presenting his defense to us, the members of the jury.
A wiry and energetic actor of certain years, Simonides is totally captivating. A trained actor in Classical Greek style with an English delivery resembling the British National Theatre greats, his rendition of the apologia contains all of the humour, pathos, poetry and wisdom that one associates with the great philosopher. In pleading for his life, Simonides’ Socrates claims to have no fear of death despite the obvious separation from his young sons. Repeatedly, Socrates stresses the ethical and examined life over the profane pursuits of money and position. The title of his play, totally contextualises Greece today, and with the topicality of an impending Grexit from the European Project, the notion of Democracy and ethics is never far from the audiences’ consciousness. Nestled in a courtyard auditorium under the great temple to Athena, one is forced to consider what Ancient Greece stands for in July 2015 and how that ancient impulse affected not only the ancient world but the continuing foundations of modern civilization.
A forum with complimentary wine follows the performance. Simonides reminds his audience that he is merely an interpreter of Socrates as he skillfully invites and manages the subsequent discussion. There is no doubt as to Simonides’ passion, authority and sincerity surrounding the subject matter and his ardent desire to use his art form to promulgate the greatness that was Ancient Greece and its continuing place in the 21 century. Perhaps most fortuitous for foreign theatre goers, is Simonides’ knowledge of Greece’s entrance to the EU with a specific invitation apparently based on its history of the democratic impulse. Furthermore, his ancient and modern knowledge contextualises more than this current issue and clearly demonstrates a strong belief that despite its current challenges the Greek ideal will prevail.
In my opinion, this performance, presented in English with Greek surtitles, is a must see on the events calendar of any summer traveller to Athens.
During the Midsumma Festival, I had the wonderful fortune of seeing a production that would rate as one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in Australia for years. The production was Loving Repeating presented by Vic Theatre Company featuring Deidre Rubenstein as Gertrude Stein. And while this article is not a review of the now-closed production, the show affected me so profoundly that it made me ask just what is it that makes good theatre? For the full article go to:
In this guest blog post, Sharon Crosby shares 10 great websites that can help you improve your writing skills
It often seems that there are not enough online resources for writers. There are many good books on the subject, but they cost a lot of money because the writing community is a relatively small niche. Here are 10 resources you can use whether you are a professional writer or a young content manager to improve your writing, to make your content more interesting or to get published. All the websites have something different to offer writers.
Get your hands on lots of writing and research advice. The homepage is a little too crammed with links for most people’s liking, but once you get used to how the website works you can find plenty of tips and lots of pieces of advice on writing. The great thing is that…
My final day was spent at Parc Guell and with this visit all my long held desires to explore Gaudi were realized. Again whimsy and practicality are forged with nature and this beautiful location captures the cool harbor breeze that eludes the town below. Gaudi, greatly informed by the ancient Greeks, has made our world a more beautiful and happier place.
With a few hours to go before going to the theatre, I decided I really should try to do some shopping and so I started along the Ramblas only to find the last thing on my bucket list, the Gran Teatro Liceu and I was able to join the final tour of the day.
It really is a superb opera house in the Italian style. Privately owned for generations, it is now in the hands of the government. Its most recent refurbishment following a fire in the 1990s, has improved the acoustics, the staging, rehearsal and dressing rooms and made the previously exclusive grand reception area available for all patrons. It’s a lavish and very appealing theatre.
And finally after a sangria and a sit down it was time to find the Teatre Lluire on Mont Juic. I never did get to do any shopping.
As I walked amongst the charming buildings of this arts precinct to get to the theatre, I discovered the Barcelona Institute of Theatre, an establishment that has always fascinated me in that it has a specific charter to teach, research, conserve, promote and innovate Catalan performing arts. It has also hosted many significant, international theatre studies conferences.
Not knowing what sort of theatre is housing Ubu Roi, I’m astonished to find myself in the 1929 Palace of Agriculture, also built for the World Fair, now with a 2000 seater conversion in high Barcelona design. Even more astonishing is that I’m in the front row.
And the play is also astonishing. With a fine pedigree coming from an invitation from Peter Brook, Cheek by Jowl created this production in co production with The Barbican, London.
Presented in French with Catalan surtitles, this is French high art in what I would expect from La Comedie-Francaise. Jarry’s, Ubu Roi (1896) is always open to extraordinary interpretations and while this was salon style farce in a proscenium arch theatre, it was not so much the interpretation that was astonishing but the performances particularly of Mere and Pere Ubu. However can I describe their energy and ability to turn on a sixpence? However can I even imagine what the rehearsal process must have been like to accomplish this level of slickness and how did the director know/ imagine what these people were capable of? How did he take them to those places? What an extraordinary accomplishment.
And please remember that I’m seeing this in a language I only just understand, so for the most part I’m missing the text and seeing French chic dissolve into the madness of vulgarity and scatology and back again. Really, for acting and production, this show takes the prize on this trip. Cheek by Jowl has presented a wonderful range of classics and this is no exception. I think there were at least 20 curtain calls. The audience went wild for it and so did I.
What a wonderful note on which to end this tour.My sincere thanks for all comments, tweets and follows. It’s been a joy to stay in touch.
This started out as my dedicated Gaudi day and on arriving La Sagrada Familia, I found that not only do I need to buy a ticket, it was allocated a time when I would be admitted. Ok so what to do for two hours? So using my metro ticket I headed off to find Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, the Rambles and the Boqueria, all of which I had spotted from the taxi last night. The whimsy, charm and architectural uniqueness of Gaudi is astonishing and on the Casa Battlio, I discovered that the balconies are cat faces!
The Boqueria on the other hand is all bustling business and practicality, but once more the displays have that intrinsic Barcelona aesthetic. I’ve never seen so much food, especially the fish and to think this is replenished every day. It is a ‘feast’ for the eye and a well deserved tourist attraction.
It would be interesting to know just how much Gaudi and tourism contribute to this ailing economy – the cost of the continuing construction of the cathedral must be enormous. And while there, you are very aware that the stonemasons are at work.
Once inside the cathedral, the beauty just overtakes you and Gaudi’s use of colour and form found in nature, in contrast to the richness and heaviness of gothic cathedrals, makes this one feel like a breath of fresh air. It is truly enlivening.
I have just arrived at The Teatro Grec having left Ted and Jo in the most amazing gin joint I’ve ever experienced. My gin was enhanced with grapefruit and ginger and it too was heaven in a glass.
And then into my third heaven for the day, seeing the beauty of this place after the heat and bus-i-ness of down town Barcelona. It has been a very hot day with traces of rain and just being in this elevated location on Mont Juic has relieved the oppression of the heat, or was it Victor’s Gin Palace?
Having said that it’s 10 pm and the production is about to begin without any further threat of rain. However it had been sufficiently disquieting for me to put a hooded jacket in my bag – does it ever rain on Spain’s outdoor shows? I’m well used to people bringing fans and fanning away, but do they bring umbrellas? And of course people do stand in the rain at The Globe Theatre and the actors also get wet…
This beautiful ampitheatre, man- made for the 1929 World Fair, was created from a disused quarry and the whole place has a beautifully peaceful Greek aesthetic, including a lovely garden and restaurant. The architect, Ramon Reventos, was clearly a neo Hellenist. I suspect the auditorium holds some 2000 people and tonight it seems almost full.
I’m in a little trepidation as to this production, Batolome Encadenado, as it represents a modern version of Prometheus, billed as a tragi comedy with a chorus of actors from the Theatre Institute. Each year a writer is asked to create a text around contemporary themes in relation to Greek theatre. With social and political overtones, this does address the economic situation as the premise for the story which deals with the theft of lower and middle class workers money by the World Bank.
And whilst the cast of young activists were enthusiastic and commited to the piece, for me the production was enhanced by a light and sound show type of projections against the back wall of the theater. This worked really well and gave a texture to the otherwise one thing after another predictable nationalistic ardor. I will explore the genesis of this work so as not to disgrace myself as to its significance.
The audience was appreciative and all of sudden they dispersed down the hill. How will I get home I asked the hotel porter. Follow the crowd! I did just that and ultimately found myself in Avenue Parel-lel within a good stroll of the hotel.
So a great day. Gaudi, The Teatro Grec, the Bocheria, Victor’s gin palace and catching up with Ted who I haven’t seen since May. He and Jo had fulfilled one of their Barcelona must do’s spending the whole day on the beach.
Arriving late in the evening from Madrid, in the morning it was great to find how conveniently my hotel is situated among the arts centre of Montjuic and many of the cultural sites of the city. All within easy striking distance once I got my Metro ticket and my bearings. With several objectives to round out my previous Barcelona experience, this visit was planned around the festival, followed by sightseeing of the National Theatre of Catelonia, Gaudi, the Gran Teatro Liceu, the L’Auditori and then some.
The festival is so named after the Teatro Grec, an ampitheatre also located on Montjuic and while it specializes in contemporary theatre, its international reputation made it a must see for me.
The exciting thing about Barcelona, is that you can turn a corner and there is some significant monument or building that you’d read about or always wanted to see.
So for me, on day one, it turned out to be the Bullring and the Bullring Museum. Why wouldn’t one important cultural activity be in the same area as the others? And I stumbled across the bullring on my way to find the NTC.
Both were equally impressive. I found the theatre workshops before I found the theatre and then discovered that the whole thing takes up a block in the area devoted to culture. It is huge! Also en route I found the Auditori for music events – again huge, with a terrific horse, a restaurant where the arts crowd eat, and where I had my first Barcelona speciality, fideula, and the Barcelona design district, enfant,bn.
The spires of Sagrada Familia are very present on the landscape so I jumped on the metro to make a recce and after seeing the queue for admission decided that this would require a dedicated, early morning excursion to actually get into the basilica in under an hour or three.
So that was day one, rounded off by a production of Pinter’s Old Times at the Sala Beckett in a very elegant part of town.
How to get there? Two metro changes and a walk…I didn’t think so and so more I added to my ownership of Barcelona taxis.
The Sala is cute, very cute, but the playing area is very challenging and so was Pinter for the Spanish cast. Working on a raised stage, running the width of the room, our eyeline was at crotch level with the three actors and their closeness to the ceiling was very disconcerting.
I love Pinter and I think that playing this one on the floor with the audience raised around the actors, might have been an improvement. In other words we all would have been in their space retracing our old times.
The Sala Beckett is dedicated to experimental theatre. It provides space and courses for young writers, and specifically promotes contemporary drama, and it was certainly worth the effort of two taxis.
Still in La Mancha, Toledo is yet another unique world. And that’s what I love about Spain, each town and region has its own unique identity. Toledo celebrates not only the unification of three cultures, Arab, Christian and Jewish, but of course El Greco, and for me, the Teatro Rojas, the Red Theatre.
Set high on a hill with splendid moorish architecture, a city of small winding streets and seemingly a million visitors, especially in this celebration year of El Greco. His work is scattered in a variety of locations and with the El Greco map in hand, you negotiate the labyrinpth of callas and vias and plazas ever hopeful that you’ll arrive in the right place soon. This must have been the hottest day of the summer heat wave and escaping into the odd church or museum was doubly useful.
This Casa is a reproduction of El Greco’s house and gives an idea of Toledo architecture and El Greco’s world. It has great charm and serenity.
The Theatre Rojas, named after the Toledo playwright, Francisco de Rojas is an example of the continuing tradition of theatre in this city. Built in 1879 on the original site of a 15th century traditional Corral des Comedias, it has it’s own imposing presence just behind the cathedral.
Sadly for me it was closed, but I was just happy to be able to make the link.
Please enjoy the rest of the photos if this fascinating city. Next stop, Barcelona.
Sadly this is my last day in Almagro. Still looking into the logistics of the 2015 tour, the day was spent in exploring the museums I’d not been to before, viz the Casa de Pacas, the Lace Museum, and the Museo Etnografico, the Ethnographic Museum. The feature museum of Almagro is the National Theatre Museum and while it is truly splendid and deserving of another visit, it was not to be so for me on this occasion.
The Lace Museum is located in a lovely 3 storey casa off the Mayors Square. Lace making, linen work and embroidery is a traditional artesan art form throughout La Mancha, seemingly with each area having its particular designs and embellishments. Almagro has high art lacemaking and it’s not uncommon to pass a lace shop and see the shop keeper actually working with her bobbins while waiting for customers. Indeed it seems to be a rather meditational activity but with incredibly sophisticated patterns and coloured pins depicting the elements of the design.
On this visit, a group of schoolgirls were being taught the art and while photography of the exhibits was prohibited, I thought I might be able to photograph the next generation of lace makers. But when I asked the tutor, I received a negative response as the children were minors and their fathers were not there to grant permission.
As a wonderful addition to the lace, there was also an exhibition of the graphic art for the 400 year celebration publication of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (2004). Antonio Mingote is a highly esteemed Spanish artist, cartoonist and academic and this display consisted of copies of the chapter illustrations from among the 600 illustrations created for the auspicious edition. The drawings were charming, utterly charming and often I found myself laughing out loud at the evocations.
My laughter however turned to misty whimsy when the museum attendant gifted me a small picture – they were not on sale – and when I looked at it, it is the scene of Quixote on his death bed with a tearful Sancho kneeling by the bed. It immediately evoked the memory of that scene when I played Aldonza and Sancho and I were in exactly those positions – and all of a sudden there were tears rolling down my cheeks some 30 years later.
On leaving the museum, I quickly did a spot of local craft shopping, including lace, and then off to the ethnographic museum before it closed for the siesta.
This was a collectors dream. Jose Louis had spent his lifetime collecting the full range of ethnographic activity in the area ranging from agriculture, wine and oil production, leather work, black smithing, and so it goes on and on with every aspect of life covered, from the laundry, through the kitchen, to the bedroom, to children. It was well worth the visit and Jose Louis was justifiably proud of his curatorial expertise. Again, he did not speak English but we were certainly able to communicate. And that was my museum morning, sadly without photos. The next thing was lunch in the square where one always finds people one knows and it’s another beer and some more tapas. By then it was time to meet Genaro for the visit to the windmills.
In Don Quixote, there is a quote about seeing 40 windmills on the far horizon. So driving for about half an hour out of Almagro, we turned and indeed there they were – not 40 – but eleven.
There are two main areas that have windmills and we were at Consuegra. The village itself is rather charmless with nothing to further a tourists curiosity but then when up on the mountains with these beauties what else could there be? Of course, a terrific bar. But that is not to be at this stage. Pedro, the windmill shopkeeper had some Manchego cheese, small cans of beer, and the usual desirables of Coca Cola and chocolate. He was a wag and made the purchases and visit to explore the interior of the windmill great fun.
Each of the mills is named after a Don Quixote character and as you look out across the vast plains and see the wheat fields, you can reflect on the days when horses both hauled and ground the wheat at the top of these steep and rocky slopes.
The photo above is with Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Almagro, Genaro Galan Garcia, who very graciously organised the trip.
Curiously, La Mancha remains one if the largest agriculture producers, especially wheat, olives and grapes and of course there is always the cheeses from either sheep, goats or cows or a blend thereof.
Below are some shots of the bulls being raised for bull fighting. I’m fascinated by the ritual of bull fighting and have always wanted to see a bull farm.
Following our excursion, we dined in the converted convent where Genaro had spent his childhood. A little off the tourist track, I was treated to a meal consisting of local Manchego fare and loved it. And that sadly is goodbye to Almagro for 2014.
Today was spent organising logistics. How was I to get to Toledo and Barcelona and even more pressing was to get to the ‘Cervantes Windmills’ and the bulls?!
Through an unexplainable series of synchronistic events and meetings, my dream was about to become a reality. And in addition to that I was invited to go to the nature reserve, Tablas de Daimiel National Park, another dream come true. Such kindness and generosity exists amongst theatre people – I was even offered two cars to use! And although I’ve driven in Spain before, the stress of getting there and getting lost, let alone the stress of a borrowed car was more than I wanted to contemplate.
My Caballero came in the form of the Almagro Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Culture, Gerano Geran Garcia, who graciously offered to take me to the windmills tomorrow, while the outing to the nature reservation was from Salome Bielsa, another theatre
festival employee. The hilarious thing is that Salome doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is totally embarrassing! Anyway we set off at 6.30 pm still in the heat of the day, for this remarkable wetland that has been chronicled since 1300. The curious thing is finding this wetland in the midst of these vast yellow plains and where there was continuous habitation by one family for over 300 years.
Salome is a keen photographer and wanted to photograph the ducks and bird life. The hides located throughout the park are perfect for photography and Salome got some great shots using the telephoto lens on her smart camera.
My dear iPad, was not able to cope with such photographic challenges – or is it the operator? Please enjoy what my 21 century box brownie was able to capture.
Then of course back to the main square for dinner in the comparative cool – 11pm – I’m really very fond of the tapas and beer and el fresco lifestyle. Thank goodness I don’t have a job to go to after these late nights!
Despite the early morning train and a long but comfortable journey, arriving at the deserted Almagro station felt like a homecoming. With ease I was able to walk to the centre of town and find The Almagro Parador. The cool comfort it offers feels like an oasis in the desert. Almagro is in Castille-La Mancha which is pretty much in the centre of Spain. I just love it. It is the wide yellow plains of Don Quixote, with evocative architecture, specialized manchegro cuisine, bull raising, and unique hospitality and friendliness.
Predictably another wonderful gin and tonic, then quickly into ‘town’ to get a ticket for tonight’s show.
I am greeted by Laura who I met last year and even though the show was fully booked, I did manage to get a ticket for the Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico production of Donde Hay Agravios No Hay Celos by Rojas Zorrilla. The approximate translation of the title is, Where There is No Jealousy, There is No Grievance. As the name of the theatre company suggests, this is the National Classic Theatre Company and is based in Madrid. Its’ charter is to preserve and present theatre of The Golden Age and each year it takes up residency at Almagro for the festival and performs in the beautiful outdoor auditorium at the Teatro Hospice de San Juan. The director, Helena Pimenta is very well regarded and the very stylish and slick production I saw last year made me a big fan.
A return to the Parador, a beer, a snack, a bath and a nap to get ready for the 22.45 start. Very civilized indeed and then people still go out for drinks and tapas afterwards, the main square is full of activity and the craft market operates over the weekend. So both tourists and local artesans are well catered for.
This rarely performed play was quite a contrast to the high camp sophistication that I saw last year and instead presented the rakish adventures of a country caballero and his buffoon, Sancho. When considering the location of this festival, there is an irrepressible charm associated with the choice of this work. Basically, it’s a let’s swap identities story that reminded me a bit of Don Giovanni, in a rural setting. The set and costumes were appropriately rustic: again, a stark contrast from the high glamour of 2013. The execution of the piece was very imaginative with a piano accordion as a musical accompaniment that served to link scene and lighting changes orchestrated by one of the female actors with some captivating moments that made me look forward to her every entrance just to change a scene!
What I derived from this production was the superb use of language. The language of The Golden Age is exceedingly difficult High Baroque and I was very aware of the vocal coaching provided by Vincente Fuente, whose vocal workshop, The Way of Verse, I had attended last year. Overall the tightness of the company in executing the piece was the stand out which is all due to the masterful direction by Ms Pimenta.
As it transpires, and for a range of circumstances that will become apparent, this is the only show I saw in Almagro and it was an exceedingly fine example of The Spanish Golden Age. It also embodied the lovely lifestyle experience of being in Almagro during the festival, and yes of course, I was able to help the local economy by getting a couple of things at the craft market.
I have still to determine whether it is more expedient to get to Merida from Lisbon or Madrid but the Lisbon experience certainly is a good one, so maybe I’ve answered my own question.
By road the trip took some 4 hours, arriving in Merida in the close down period in the heat of the day. It is a terrific city stemming from its Roman origins in 2AD when Augustus gifted it to his army and proceeded to build a wonderful monument to himself. The colosseum and other ruins, including of course, the Roman Amiptheatre are extraordinary and well worth a once in a life time pilgrimage to see a show here.
The Merida Parador, with its own collection of Roman artefacts recovered from the site and now decorating the garden, is a part of the unique accommodation chain throughout Spain that has converted historic buildings into the most wonderful guest experiences. History, art, architecture and high local cuisine all come together with impeccable hospitality.
With only one night in Merida and making sure I was on the only train to Almagro early next day, my main focus was the performance.
Part of the Classical Theatre Festival of Merida, this show had only two performances, and when playing to a 5000 people full house, you probably don’t need more than that.
This Flamenco artist, Sara Baras is internationally renown for her choreography and originality. When visiting the theatre in the afternoon, I was there for some of the band sound check and quite an impressive band it was, 6 pieces including three flamenco acoustic guitars, cello, two percussionists and synth.
Medusa is a gory tale of the beautiful gorgon with snakes for hair and the ability to turn people to stone if they gaze upon her.
Perseus pursues her and to avoid her gaze, he is given a mirror shield by Athena, winged sandals by Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades helmet of invisability. He uses the mirrored shield to reflect Medusa’s image and then cut off her head. Ultimately the head and the shield depicting her head are gifted to Athena. It is believed to be an evil- deflecting device.
Apparently at that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon and when Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a golden sword-wielding giant, sprang from her body.
That there is so much written about Medusa from mythology, psychology, the feminist movement, etc just illustrates the mystique and intrigue about this character and of course her image shows up again and again, particularly in connection with Ancient Rome.
And so to the performance. At 10 pm I joined the eagerness of the 5000 queuing to get into the ampitheatre for the 11.45 show on this deliciously balmy full moon night. Having an allocated seat helped enormously and suddenly there she was in a swathe of swirling white, with her husband, Jose Serrano playing Perseus.
I’m not quite convinced about the story telling technique, with a non dancer narrator wandering through the set at pertinent times, but the flamenco element was all consuming with the highly vocal, highly appreciative audience breaking the moments with their applause and bravos.
The encore was as stylish as the rest of the performance with each of the main dancers doing a routine.
I love flamenco. I love the expertise developed over years and years of training and I love the arrogance of the dancers which seems to say, ‘take that!’ And the audience howls their appreciation and along with them was hugely appreciative Aussie.
At 1am I made my way back through the equally excited sporting fans of Merida because Germany was playing Argentina. That excitement continued in the streets until sunrise at 6am. What a lively night, Ole!
The Almada Festival, although in its 31st year, is little known, even in Portugal.
Unable to book online and hopeful of something I wanted to see because of the lateness of their program publication, I was told by my hotel porter to just turn up. There was however something I really did want to see and that is La Reunification des Deux Corees, a French production by Joel Pommerat, a writer/director who had been invited to spend some time with Peter Brook.
Arriving at this festival location there is a hubbub of activity, outdoor dining and music and a very gracious and committed crowd of festival and theatre goers. This festival is quite unique, as is the island of Almada, which had an independent identity from Neolithic times to comparatively recently.
My instinct tells me that this theatre developed as a result of the 1970’s political activity, but I have yet to confirm the activities of Joaquim Benite after whom the main theatre is named. It certainly seems to have its roots in socialist democratic activities.
On turning up at the Box Office, it’s a subscription festival and I was in a queue for a no-show ticket. But I’ve come from Australia for this! It was full last night, so don’t worry you’ll probably get in! Two performances only!!!
So off to have a beer, a snack and to calm my nerves. I’m constantly surprised by the variation of prices – this beer and little meat pie for €2.50 compared to a taxi ride of €20 illustrates tourist high need and high prices. This taxi driver wanted to drive me to my next destination, Merida, for €1000! My express bus ticket is €13.00.
Outside on the terrace to indulge this new found economy, but, alas, no table space. While I was quite willing to stand and people watch, the English speaking, German customer in the queue before me invited me to take his table. Thank you, but please stay here with me. Have you come especially for this festival? So have I. And so starts a lengthy conversation about festivals we have been to and our desire to see this show. When I tell him I couldn’t get a ticket, he disappears to the box office and returns with a ticket for €15.
Stefan Schmidtke, as a co-artistic director of the Vienna Festival, is responsible for the drama programme, and is here to view this show for Vienna 2015. He travels the world looking for product. It transpires that he is very knowledgeable about the state of Australian theatre and how comparatively impoverished it is from the lack of the type of government support that exists in Europe. However, he was most complementary about the success of Simon Stone’s The Wild Duck in Vienna in 2013.
Stefan was of course the ideal theatre companion and we sat together in the show. And what a great show it was. We had both agreed that theatre in foreign languages that we don’t understand can often determines the quality and effectiveness of theatre and this was no exception. Presented in French with Portuguese surtitles and without an interval, this was a tour de force on scenes from heterosexual relationships. Sometimes it was high French film comedy and at others kitchen sink tragedy, plus the use of many other theatrical devices including a high camp chanteuse, the arrival of carnival dodge ’em cars, all delivered with the slickest/seamless technical transitions I have ever seen.
To explain the title, The Reunification of the Two Koreas, is a metaphor for the geographical/political tension that exists in relationships. To further the metaphor, the space is divided in a bi frontal set up in which the audience is looking at each other over a transverse corral. It is most effective and facilitates the elements of surprise so imaginatively orchestrated with lights and sound.
This show is an outstanding piece of theatre. The actors, mostly mature, are relentless in their energy and versatility in taking on a range of characters that just keep adding layers to the theatrical premise. I’m sure Stefan will pick it up for Vienna, (he was off to talk to the production manager, while I went to find a cab) and we can only hope that it makes it to Australia perhaps for a Melbourne International Festival. However, I can’t see the Arts Centre using its stage for the presentation at the expense of it’s 2 thousand seater auditorium. At Almada, the show was presented on the stage of the very beautiful Barbican-style theatre. And this show would never work in a conventional set up. Sadly for me I won’t get to see a show in the theatre proper on this occasion but I will definitely return to the Almada Festival to see more of this style of work. And sadly, too, I was so caught up in the immediacy of the unfolding events, I did not take one photo! So this post has a collection of random Lisbon and Cascais shots.
And this is what this travel is all about, seeing the world and seeing world theatre. And although I have deliberately chosen to see fewer shows this year, so far the things I have seen have been stand outs.
Tomorrow I travel to Merida to see a Flamenco version of Medusa in the Roman Ampitheatre. It too is sold out and I’m expecting it to be outstanding.
Lisbon is an extraordinarily beautiful city. The wide boulevards and the beautiful pavement decoration is very enticing. And so too is the Portuguese charm. Not having a word of Portuguese, I bought a dictionary at the airport and pressed on from there.
My hotel is situated among the designer stores, all of which have sales and whether it was my lowly status as a tourist or whether it is store protocol, I was not pounced upon by eager sales personnel. I’m a hopeless shopper, and never seem to have enough time to do it properly, so my loss, I probably miss out on some great bargains.
The flight into Lisbon was late so I could only just settle into the hotel with the best g & t ever before going on my pre arranged tour of Lisbon followed by dinner at a Fado restaurant, and what an experience that was.
The tour was useful in quickly contextualising the city, but the Fado was truly wonderful. With 5 different singers and 2 musicians, it seemed like an extended family of bohemians who have managed to serve the local as well as the tourist market without losing authenticity. And with the women singers in particular, the fado form was everything I could hope for.
Dinner was traditional food, potato soup which was very good indeed, followed by 2 fishy dishes or a steak dish. My fishy meal was huge and when questioned as to why I hadn’t finished it, I had to pantomime my limited capacity rather than offend the proprietor by any inadequacy on his part. The wine flowed and so did the music, song after song, occasionally joined in by a chorus from the kitchen. For me this was one of my most memorable experiences.
Sadly the lighting prohibited good photography, but here is the chanteuse to die for and her partner/owner of the establishment.
This is the last morning of freshly squeezed orange juice from the orchard, the sound of cicadas and the greeting of the great orb of the sun across the sea undisturbed by buildings or other trappings of 21 century modernity. The comparative simplicity of this place is seductive while my sophistication screams is this all there is? It is curious that on a quest to discover theatre, I have found that theatre has become a part of that sophistication. Emanating from the heights and simplicity of the Peloponnese, theatre today has mostly become a big city phenomenon. But that’s another discussion.
Leaving Ancient Epidavros en route to Nafplio, I again passed through Lygourio and was able to spend some time in the natural history museum. It certainly contextulised the mineral wealth of Ancient Greece, which in turn financed wars as well as architectural and other development. Lygourio, situated in the ancient kingdom of Lessa, is purported to be of such antiquity, that it was from its mountain top,’ that the last fryktoria lit to deliver the message of the fall of Troia…’
Descending from the Peloponnese into the gracious harbour city of Napflio is a gradual re introduction into the sophistication of Greece despite the constant reminders of the past with not only a Venetian fortification in the harbour, but also another immense fort- like edifice on the mountain behind the town.
Significant as being the first capital city of Greece established by the First National Assembly in 1821 which voted for a democratic constitution, it is very beautiful indeed.
From there a bus ride to Athens and instant immersion into the hustle and bustle of this vibrant and enthralling city.
The Fresh Hotel, a comparatively new and ultra modern architectural and design establishment, has a Barcelona feel of clean lines and colour in comparison to some of the 4 stars which are very indulgent and charge for wi-fi! And besides, the Fresh is just off Athinas, which is a great street and links Omonia with the Plaka, and Psiri is just parallel to it. So it’s a great area as I hope the photos will show. It really is foodie heaven!
Speaking of shows, the festival offering that got my attention (and my Euros) was a German symphony orchestra with a Mozart and R. Strauss programme happening in the Odeon of Herodus Atticus. A fabulously balmy evening in the open air Roman theatre, it was an appropriate rendition for those patrons rushing off to see Germany play in the World Cup.
Being in this auditorium was a first for me and was worth the rush to secure a ticket. And once more I just love post-show Athens. The ability to wander the streets, to grab a taxi, or just keep walking in this beautiful heat until a bar/ restaurant grabs your eye, seems quite unique.
Just now I’m sitting in the rooftop bar with an almost full moon overlooking the Acropolis.
I’ve spent the day indulging myself with shopping and taking photos. Oh, I did go to the Fish Spa for a foot massage and to feed the fish! A very welcome respite from the walking.
It’s been a great day and now this evening I pack up again in preparation for Lisbon tomorrow.