A stunning Agave performance puts veteran actress in season’s limelight

The summer may not be over for theater, but we can still single out one of the best performances of the season: Lydia Fotopoulou in the Greek National Theater’s touring production of Euripides’ «Bacchae,» playing Agave, the queen mother of Thebes, who, caught up in the frenzy of the Dionysian rituals, rips her son Pentheus to shreds. Her performance is truly amazing, and not just because this diminutive yet outstanding actress has not given us good performances before, but because this role is so unusual for her. A star at the National Theater of Northern Greece since her early days, Fotopoulou has been enjoying the fruits of the capital’s theater scene for some years now. Free from commitment (marriage, children – her son is grown up and a student at university in London – and love affairs), she is basking in her art and in the hard-won maturity that comes with age. We were amazed by your Agave, even though we still find it a bit hard to believe. Me too. When the director, Sotiris Hadzakis, offered me the role, I just said: «Who? Me?» It had never crossed my mind to take on such a part. I never dreamed of roles in ancient dramas the way I used to dream of the heroines of Tennessee Williams. What piqued my interest to play in ancient dramas, and especially with Andreas Voutsinas, who gave so many parts to play, was the curiosity to understand what others [directors] saw in me and what they wanted to do with it. Of course this opened up a whole new window into myself. That happened here, with Agave. At the beginning, when I expressed my first reservations, Hadzakis would say, «I need an actress who will not have something specific in mind; who can explore the part without preconceptions.» You express what you found in the role without words. The scene where you, as Agave, are clearing the ground around the head of your dead, mutilated son, dumbstruck and silent, has remained in the audience’s memory. Quite a few people have mentioned that moment. Look, Agave is not a role that can be played. You can’t do something like that: rip your own son to pieces, and then speak. So I had to search for a non-verbal expression of this grief first, and then find ways to put it into words. What has been the public’s reception of the play so far? It’s been very warm. We all feel good about it; the production felt right even from the early days of rehearsals. We worked hard, but it was a calm, stress-free process and that helped a lot. One of the reasons I accepted the part was also because of the people Hadzakis had chosen to comprise the production. I felt a lot of trust for them, I knew the way they breathed, even though I may not have known some of them personally. There is Savina Yannatou in the music, the Sine Qua Non dance theater in the movement and the actors of course – among them my very good friend Lazaros Georgakopoulos. The two of you, along with his wife Maria Katsiadaki, have formed your own theater company. What are you working on for the winter season? We want to do something, but Lazaros is playing «King Lear» with the National, so we’ll have to push for Easter. Where are you going to be this winter? I am going to Patras, which is Cultural Capital of Europe 2006. [The event’s artistic director] Themis Moumoulidis made me a proposal for a Goldoni, directed by Vassilis Papavassiliou, and for Ritsos’s «Moonlight Sonata.» Your life has become almost nomadic. After all, I think it agrees with me. Last January, before I had a string of performances before me – «La Ronde» and «Gertrude Stein» at the Theatro Technis, Sartre’s «Behind Closed Doors» in Patras and, right after that, «The Bacchae,» non-stop until today – I was in a panic of the absurd. As soon as I got off the train at the Acropolis station, luggage in hand, and saw the Acropolis, I thought to myself, «Ah, here I am.» I like changing cities. It can get a bit tiring, but there is a charm in it all. How does this affect your personal life? I am in something of a state of abstinence right now, so it’s not a problem. Are you steady in your relationships, or do you like change in that department as well? I used to be very steady… at least until I changed. I used to think, «This is it,» until «it» changed. We don’t always determine these things, there are so many factors. While with my friends I am always myself, and in theater I am always myself, in my personal relationships I often lose myself, and when I do, it’s no fun at all. It’s a real battle to find my center again. A few years ago you said that theater was no longer the center of your universe, as it was when you first started out on the stage. What is the center of your universe now? The theater. Often I wish that it wasn’t, but when I get real I see that it is. And I must admit that I feel very fortunate to have the theater in my life. How come you never went after the fame that television can bring? I never felt the urge, really. But I also never managed to do what I admire in other colleagues – which they do more for the money than the fame – that is running to a series shoot in the morning and then going to the theater in the afternoon. I’ve only done one TV series, «Straw Hats,» and I had no commitments at the theater at the time, so I did it with pleasure. Are you concerned that the type of theater you do is becoming defunct? I think about that a lot. In Athens at least, things are still pretty good. In Thessaloniki, young people’s interest in theater has really diminished over the years. Many young artists’ groups are closing down. Of course, the theater itself may to be blame, but the truth is that we are not really raising young people with interests.