Experimental version of Aristophanes’ ‘Frogs’

The sets for the latest production of Aristophanes’ «Frogs,» by the State Theater of Northern Greece, are made of iron. A tree dominates the stage; it symbolizes the descent into the underworld, which the god Dionysus and his slave Xanthias will attempt (acted by Christos Stergioglou and Vassilis Harambopoulos, respectively). A round, raised pedestal, on which the poets Aeschylus (Alexandros Mylonas) and Euripides (Costas Sandas) will hold their literary competition, completes the set. However, the chorus also takes a leading role in this play and, in fact, is divided into two sections; those who are dressed in diving suits and those dressed in the white suits of the initiators into religious mysteries. This is how director Sotiris Hadzakis decided to portray the Aristophanic comedy, which opens tonight at the Dassos Theater in Thessaloniki. «Although this is a play about the underworld, constructivism and the tree are not merely symbolic but their role is substantial. Ersi Drini’s iron sets give the impression of stillness in Hades, while the tree, through its roots and its leaves, connects the world of the living with that of the dead, a symbolism much used in folk tradition. This is where the idea stemmed from and, in the end, the material helped the contents of the play. It was not the other way round, not the content aiding the material,» said Hadzakis, who has already directed another three comedies by Aristophanes. He described the «The Frogs» as a «subversion, a surprise and a liberating break» before moving on to Kazantzakis’s «Last Temptation of Christ» with the National Theater. The translation is by Costas Tachtsis and, according to Hadjakis, has a playful quality which renders Aristophanes’ words without missing out on the quality and the spirit of the play. The play’s direction is inspired by a painting by Henri Rousseau. The depiction of life in the underworld was carried out on three different levels: the motif of utopia, the play’s close relationship to the rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries and the element of subversion. «In Aristophanes’ ‘Clouds’ the actors go up into the sky; in this play, the underworld is the mythical place where the desperate poet descends to find the poet who will save the city-state.» The play is about tragic problems and comical solutions brought topsy turvy. «The upper world is dismal and destroyed by war, whereas the underworld is bright, takes an interest in current affairs and is anxious about the solution that may save the city-state.» Are there similarities with our world? So many that it scares me. Aristophanes’ characters do not correspond to personalities today, but similar problems and situations with modern times arise from the text. Are poets necessary to save this world? We don’t just need poets, we also need everybody to carry out a personal poetic analysis. In other words, we must redefine our existence through an internal process. Which are the elements that differentiate your production from previous productions of «The Frogs»? This is a much-anticipated performance. Where aesthetics are concerned, we avoided folklore, the sexism of the strong phallic element, swearing and current affairs. We respected the motifs of utopia and the Eleusinian Mysteries, while the elements of brightness and joy in the underworld allowed us a festive dream fantasy and comic allegory. I see Aristophanes’ work as a road, and we are the travelers. This production has earned the right to research. Is the audience mature enough to accept modern experimentations on classic drama? What I no longer accept is the popular expressionism that accompanies Aristophanes. It was established as a tradition after Karolos Koun’s great performances but what we are experiencing now is the remnants of these performances, where the phallic symbol reigns in the form of modern Greek supremacy, there is a lot of swearing and people are depicted as monsters. All of that censors Aristophanes’ real substance, which is a melancholy mood, utopia and his love for the city-state.

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