Greek-Turkish production of ‘The Persians’ crosses historical divides

ISTANBUL – The atmosphere was charged in the majestic hall of the Byzantine Church of Aghia Irene in Istanbul. On stage was Aeschylus’ «Persians,» which extols the victory of Greece through the mournful dirges of a beaten East – a play that until just a few decades ago was banned in Turkey. The performing troupe had a mixed Greek-Turkish cast and the dialogue was in both languages too. The audience that flocked to the performance was also a mixed one, and among them were the Greek and Turkish ministers of culture. When the first, spectacular, scene reached it zenith, with the survivors – grief-stricken by the news of the war’s bitter end – raising pleading hands to heaven and holding photographs of their missing (from Cyprus and Asia Minor, but also from Turkey’s own chapters of war and destruction), it was as if the audience had been struck by an electric current. This bold and innovative production of «The Persians» is a co-production of Greece’s Attis Theater company, directed by Theodoros Terzopoulos, and the Turkish National Theater, and it launched the well-established 15th International Theater Festival of Istanbul last week, running in parallel with the International Theater Olympiad. This major artistic event brings together some of the world’s greatest names in theater and until June 6 will feature 34 plays from 10 different countries in 60 performances. The Greek production, co-produced by the Hellenic Festival, will also open the Epidaurus Festival of Ancient Drama. The Greek presence was strengthened by the arrival of Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, who also met with his Turkish Counterpart Attila Koc. Voulgarakis stressed the significance of the play, especially when staged in such a venue by artists from both countries, who «mourn together the destruction of war. Aeschylus teaches us that man does not accept his fate, but fights it, and sometimes even reverses it,» he said.