When the performance of Suppliants begins at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, we hear slow, throbbing, funereal music and nine women dressed in black enter slowly, wailing. There are no words, just a simple eeeeeehhh. The women are the mothers of the Argive chieftains who were killed when they unsuccessfully attacked Thebes. Creon, the autocrat of Thebes, is refusing to give the bodies to the mothers so they can give them a proper burial.
Suppliants is another chapter in the woes of the Royal House of Thebes. You will recall that King Oedipus inadvertently killed his father and married his mother. On finding out what he had done, he blinded himself and left the kingdom to his sons Eteocles and Polyneices. The brothers had a falling out and Polyneices eventually got help from Argos and with six other chieftains attacked the seven gates of Thebes. Polyneices and his allies were all killed as well as Eteocles. That left Creon in charge and possession of Thebes. It is here that Suppliants begins.
The production under review is a joint effort by the National Theatre of Greece and the Cyprus Theatre Organization and stands as an example of Ancient Greek Tragedy at its best.
It provides what can be done with imaginative use of the Chorus. Director Stathis Livanthinos and Choreographer Fotis Nikolaou make outstanding use of the group. The simple lament expressed at the opening of the performance is not indicated in the text. The play begins with a lengthy speech by Aethra (Katia Dandoulaki), the mother of Theseus (Akis Sakellariou), who gives background information and sets the stage for the play.
In addition to the simple but effective choreography of Nikolaou, the production benefits from the music of Angelos Triandafyllou. He has composed moving lamentations that are sung with superb expressiveness by the Chorus. The women can sing, and their chants are a major part of the success of the production.
Theseus is the king of Athens and is supplicated, indeed begged by the mothers to rescue their sons’ bodies so they can give them proper burial. He is arrogant to the point of rudeness and questions King Adrastus of Argos about the wisdom of his people’s involvement in the attack on Thebes in support of one of Oedipus’s sons. Sakellariou, dressed in pure white, his arm stuck up in the air when he orates, is the epitome of youthful haughtiness.
King Adrastus is essentially a man who has been defeated and humiliated as a result of some serious errors. He is desperately trying to maintain some pride and dignity. Christos Sougaris does a fine job as the pathetic king.
There is a Messenger (Andreas Tselepos) who tries to outdo Theseus in arrogance and argumentativeness and a Herald (Harris Charalambous) whose job it is to bring the good news of Theseus’s victory over the Thebans and my goodness he is eager to do it.
Notably fine acting is displayed by Doundoulaki who shows sympathy for the bereaved women and is able to stand up to her conceited son and be instrumental in changing his mind.
We then hear a beautiful ode sung by the children of the slain chieftains. The choir is in the audience and they stand up and sing from their seats. Quite beautiful.
As is if that were not enough, the goddess Athene drops in to tell us to love Athens. Theseus has already told us how great Athens is as a democracy compared to the autocracy of Creon. In fact the play has a decidedly political angle. The ancient myth of the Royal House of Thebes meets the present (422 B.C) as the city-states are involved in a brutal civil war that will destroy them. Euripides wants to praise Athens and he does.
The costumes are basically modern. The women of the chorus wear black dresses and Aethra in a white robe with a red dress looks stylish.
The stage has indications of stumps of burned trees with one of them set on a mound. That will serve as the symbolic pyre on which Evadne is burned.
I have nothing but praise for a brilliantly conceived and superbly executed production.
Suppliants by Euripides in a coproduction by the National Theatre of Greece and the Cyprus Theatre Organization in a translation by Giorgos Koropoulis was performed on September 5, 2019 at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens, Greece.
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. greekpress.ca