Monday, September 30, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Faith, Hope and Charity are cardinal virtues in Christianity, and they are also the title of Alexander Zeldin’s new play now showing at the Dorfman stage of the national Theatre in London. Religion does not enter the play at all but there is indeed faith in humanity. Hope in helping the poorest and charity with love and humility.

The play takes place in a soup kitchen where people go for a meal and company. There is also a choir where the ability to sing is optional.

The kitchen is run by Hazel (Cecilia Noble) and Mason (Nick Holder), a middle-aged man who volunteers to help and organize a choir. He is a former prisoner and knows what it means to be down and out.
Cecilia Noble in Faith, Hope and Charity. Photo: Sarah Lee
The people who frequent the kitchen have a lot in common. They are poor, of course, but they also come from broken families, have emotional problems and are basically society’s forgotten. Tharwa (Hind Swareldahab) does not speak English and comes regularly with her little girl for some food. That is all we know about her and that is all we need to know.

Susan Lynch as Beth has a troubled teenaged son Marc (Bobby Smallwood) but has an even greater problem she has a small daughter and there is a court hearing about her custody. Beth is about to lose custody of her child. The moving story goes to the end of the play as Beth desperately searches for help and looks for support from Mason and Hazel.

There is Bernard (Alan Williams) whose committed the crime of getting old, being forgetful and poor. We get a few laughs from his conduct but there is nothing funny about his fate. He comes to eat and wants to sing but can’t remember any of the lyrics. 
Alan Williams in Faith, Hope and Charity. Photo: Sarah Lee
If the people who come for a meal have problems so does the institution itself. The developers are trying to evict Hazel and Mason and shut the whole thing down. Developers versus helping the socially left out. Guess who wins?

The key characters are Hazel and Mason. They come from broken homes and they are like the people for whom they cook and jolly along every day. I will pay special tribute to their acting because they manage to capture the spirit of the play. There is no preaching, no charity just plain decency. The level of acting by the entire cast is superb.

Not one of the visitors to the kitchen is judged in this beautifully modulated and marvelously acted play. It is a paean to basic humanity and decency. The faith of the title refers or should refer to Hazel and Mason’s faith in humanity. The hope is what they naturally engender in people who seem to have no hope. Charity? No, just plain decency in a frequently if not fundamentally indecent society.

Zeldin also directs this wonderful night at the theatre.
Faith, Hope and Charity by Alexander Zeldin continues until October 12, 2019 at the Dorfman stage of the National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of the Greek Press.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


James Karas

On October 24, 1993, Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, connected the exhaust pipe of his truck by a hose to the cab of his truck and turned on the engine. His 12-year old daughter Laura was in the truck and consequently died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Laura was severely disabled and in constant and apparently excruciating pain. Her quality of life was negligible, if any. Latimer’s action in wanting to put an end to her life was an act of love and mercy. The Canadian legal system did not see it that way and he was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 10 years. His conviction that he took his daughter’s life to end her pain did not get him sympathy with some quarters of Canada especially the parole board and he served his entire sentence.
Claire Skinner, Toby Stephens and Storme Toolis. Photo:Marc Brenner
The horrifying fate of Laura and Robert Latimer came to mind while watching A Day in the Death of Joe Egg by Peter Nichols. The play premiered in 1967 and was partly autobiographical because Nichols had a severely disable daughter who had died at age 11.

Brian and Sheila have a severely disabled daughter. Josephine or Joe Egg as they call her cannot speak or walk and recognizes almost nothing of her surroundings. She is incontinent, requires almost constant care and has convulsions. Looking after Joe is excruciatingly difficult. Sheila sees or imagines she is seeing signs of reaction or recognition from Joe. Brian sees no hope and while hiding his emotions behind bad jokes about Joe’s condition contemplates bringing her life to an end.

The play is billed as a comedy and there are some funny lines but the humour is black and the situation utterly depressing.

Nichols has his characters address the audience directly beginning with Brian who teaches high school in Bristol and has a class of nightmarish students. The first scene is a perfect example of bad class control where he yells at his students for misbehaving, tells all of them to put their hands on their heads and leaves them there while he goes home.

Brian and Sheila step off the stage to re-enact visits to a family physician and a pediatrician who are hilariously and frightfully inept, unsympathetic and pathetic. 
Toby Stephens, Lucy Eaton, Clarence Smith and Claire Skinner. 
Photo: Marc Brenner 
The rest of the plot is taken by the visit of a friendly couple, Freddie (Clarence Smith) and Pam (Lucy Eaton) who want to be helpful but are not. The other visitor is Brian’s mother Grace (Patricia Hodge) who is obtuse and funny.

Toby Stephens as Brian (he is usually Bri) and Claire Skinner as Sheila play the wretched and unfortunate parents who try to deal with a hopeless and horrid situation and try to find ways of dealing with it. Excellent work by both of them.

The production is done on a single set by Peter McIntosh representing the living room of Joe’s parents. We see Joe (Storme Toolis) in her wheelchair sitting there quietly or convulsing. The actors step down from the stage when addressing the audience or taking the role of the doctors.

Director Simon Evans does fine work dealing with a horrible situation and bringing out the humour of the play. It is a horrifying situation and a dreadful fate for the people involved. And this is just on stage. Can you imagine it in real life?

I wonder if Latimer is aware of the play.
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg  by Peter Nichols  continues until November 30, 2019 at Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Sean Holmes for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre can be described as exuberant, wild, irreverent, unfaithful, colourful, energetic, flamboyant, crowd-pleasing and crowd-grabbing. Many of these are positive attributes that may apply to the show seen on the stage. But there was one defect: it was not Shakespeare. You will hear most of the text, but the major thrust will be to get laughs and do as much as possible without attention to what Shakespeare wrote.

Let’s start with the two pairs of lovers who along with the Mechanicals will carry the bulk of the play with due help from the mischievous prankster Puck. Demetrius (Ciaran O’Brien), Hermia (Faith Omole), Lysander (Ekow Quartey) and Helena (Amanda Wilkin) are spirited and agile actors who can deliver their marvelous lines and entertain us. But they need to be directed to do so and not laden with gimmicks to draw in the audience.  Why are they not allowed to play their parts instead of jumping out of character to get laughs? 
Jocelyn Jee Esien as Bottom and Victoria Elliott as Titania.  Photo: Tristram Kenton
The same applies to the Mechanicals. Jocelyn Jee Esien is a spitfire as Bottom as are Rachel Hannah Clarke as Snug, Nadine Higgin as Quince, Billy Seymour as Flute, Jacoba Williams as Snout and “one of you” as Starveling. The last is an audience member who is supposed to provide more fun. That is hokey and unnecessary. The Mechanicals are hilarious as they are without pandering to the audience. The day I saw the play, one Kevin was invited from the audience and got some laughs but we would have done even better by sticking to Shakespeare and a professional actor.

Puck, who is a great driving force for humour in the play, is played according to the program by “some of us” meaning the cast. Do we really need four (or was it more?) actors with T-shirts marked Puck? And do we need a brass band that is ready to play and does play with annoying frequency? Actors grab a microphone and start singing and invite the audience to join in. I guess you just can’t trust Shakespeare so just add whatever nonsense comes to your head and hope the audience laps it up.

The appetite for getting the audience join in the performance seems almost insatiable. The spectators are happy to join in. Ask them to applaud, they will applaud. Ask them to sing, they will sing. Go out of character, do almost anything for a laugh, and they will laugh.

Holmes and designer Jean Chan want to establish a production that is noted for wild colours and costumes. Titania and Oberon, Theseus and Hippolyta, the fairies, the Mechanicals all wear costumes that are outlandish in design and wild in colour. 
Ciaran O'Brién, Amanda Wilkin, Faith Omole, Ekow Quartey. 
Photo: Tristram Kenton
In the opening scene we see a large, sealed box on the stage marked “fragile.” It is broken open and a woman with her lips taped appears. The garishly attired and oblivious Theseus announces that his marriage to Hippolyta is only four days away and he just can’t wait for the happy event. The woman in the box is Hippolyta and you can just imagine how happy she is. Peter Bourke plays Theseus and Oberon while Victoria Elliott plays Hippolyta and Titania and they do their jobs well. 

The current approach to productions of Shakespeare’s play seems to be to bring them to the lowest common denominator. Involve the audience, get a laugh, ignore the text, jump out of character, get someone from the audience on the stage and do any gimmick that your imagination can devise, and unacceptable production perpetrate.

Some day they may find Shakespeare again.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare continues until October 13, 2019 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. England  

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


James Karas

The Night of the Iguana, like many of Tennessee Williams plays, deals with people at the end of their rope. He wrote the play in 1961 but it takes place in 1940 in a run-down beach hotel in Mexico. It was inspired by some awful experiences Williams had in 1940.

The play has some fourteen characters but only four of them are of real consequence. Director James Macdonald delivers a well done production that brings out the strength and humanity of people who can barely cope with reality. 
 Clive Owen and Anna Gunn. Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen) is a defrocked minister who has been reduced to working as a tour guide on third-rate bus trips. He preached atheism, seduced young girls and has ended up as an alcoholic on the verge of a mental breakdown. On his last trip, he diverts the bus full of women to Maxine Faulk’s (Anna Gunn) hotel and takes the ignition key so that they will not be able to leave.

Owen gives a superb performance as the desperate, pathetic, humiliated former cleric who deteriorates so much that he must be tied to a hammock for his safety. A human being with almost nothing left who finds solace in drinking and tries to pretend that he can make a comeback as a minister when he is in fact in danger of being arrested for having sex with a minor. A bravura performance.

Maxine is another person on the edge. Her husband with whom she has had no relations except grunting for ten years has recently died. She flaunts her sexuality and finds solace in having a couple of Mexican studs service her. She has deep humanity but not much to support it with. Gunn has a full-throated laugh as if to hide reality and puts up a front of strength behind a vacuous existence. Marvelous performance.

Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams) is a dried-up New England spinster who has difficulty finding means of survival. She paints. She has found some inner strength to help her survive but that does not conceal her actual desperation. Williams is prim, proper, and fights for tomorrow. Hannah understands Shannon better than he understands himself because she has been close to the edge herself. A highly sympathetic portrayal.

Hannah travels with her grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover), an old invalid who is trying to write his last poem. Another desperate man who is not just at the end of his “career” but at the end of his life and tries to achieve his crowning glory. 
                                              Scene fro The Night of the Iguana.  Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
The play has a number of other characters who are merely sketched in or not developed at all. There are four Nazis who march on and off the stage to some comic effect, the Mexican toy boys who entertain Maxine, and several others. They serve to move the plot  and give context to the lives of the other characters.

The set by Rae Smith is extraordinarily effective. The dilapidated hotel is situated in front of a huge cliff with the beach being reached by steps in front of the hotel. The lighting by Neil Austin is dark and dramatic and the storm scene highly realistic. Excellent production values overall.

Macdonald does terrific work in bringing one of Williams’ better plays to the stage one more time.     
The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams continues until September 28, 2019 at the Noël Coward Theatre, 85-88 St Martin's Ln, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4AP.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Florian Zeller is a prolific French writer who has made his presence felt in England and elsewhere in the last few years. He has written a trilogy about the family appropriately titled The Father, The Mother and The Son. The Father was produced last winter by Coal Mine Theatre, but I am not aware of other productions of his plays in Toronto.

The Son premiered in London last February at the Kiln Theatre and has now transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End.

Zeller is a master of writing linear, apparently simple narratives that are dramatic and effective and extraordinarily moving. He always manages to hide a punch for the end, and it makes for exceptional theatre. All his plays are translated into English by the inimitable Christopher Hampton. 
John Light (Pierre), Amanda Abbington (Anne) and 
Laurie Kynaston (Nicolas). Photo: Marc Brenner
Anne (Amanda Abington) and Pierre (John Light) are a middle-class couple in Paris. They are separated and Pierre is living with Sofia (Amaka Okafor) with whom he has had a son. Pierre and Anne also have a teenage son, Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) who has serious emotional problems.

When the play opens Anne has just found out that Nicolas has not attended school for several months while pretending to do so. He walks around doing basically nothing except pretending to attend classes.

The parents try to figure out Nicolas’s problems as he goes to live with his father and some tensions are created with Sofia. We realize slowly the depth of Nicolas’s emotional issues and watch his parents desperately trying to help. He ends up in a psychiatric facility. I will not give you any more details for fear of spoiling the plot especially the end of the play.

The plot is developed slowly but with a firm hand by the author and director Michael Longhurst. The scene changes on the single set are quick, fluid and inobtrusive. What counts is the narrative.

Kynaston does an excellent job as the disturbed teenager. He is basically lost and does not know why he is living. No one can reach the root of his troubles if in fact it is reachable. He has emotional outbursts coupled with manipulative behaviour and some acts of violence. A fine performance.

Abbington and Light as the separated couple bear the bitterness and scars of separation while trying to help their son. There are subliminal and expressed emotional currents that are dramatic and touching. Zeller creates sympathetic characters rather than being judgmental. Okafor as the new partner Sofia is asked by Nicolas the pointed question: did she know Pierre was married when she met him?   
 John Light and Amaka Okafor. Photo: Marc Brenner
Nicolas ends up in a psychiatric hospital that he hates, and the parents must choose between professional advice of a doctor (Martin Turner) and the pleas of their son to take him home. No parent should ever have to make that choice, but they must decide.

The set by Lizzie Clachan is a simple room, painted white with very little furniture. A door opens at the back showing a piano to indicate Pierre and Sofia’s apartment. Simple, direct and effective.

The Son deals with an apparently simple situation that is in fact complicated and emotionally wrenching. The production provides a highly moving and superb evening at the theatre.
The Son  by Florian Zeller in a translation by Christopher Hampton continues until November 2, 2019 at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG. The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Monday, September 23, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Jules Massenet’s Werther was first performed, and only once, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1894. It was such a flop that it was put in deepfreeze until 1979. It has been defrosted but it has not exactly become a big hit despite some fine recording. In fact, the performance I saw on September 20, 2019 was only the 44th at Covent Garden.

The current run is the third revival of Benoit Jacquot’s 2004 production so Werther may be picking up some speed. In tenor Juan Diego Florez as the hero and mezzo soprano Isabel Leonard as Charlotte it has huge star and vocal power to pull a lot of people to Covent Garden.

The opera has a few big arias but its plot and emotional and moral wavelengths come from a very different world. A young man looks at a young woman and falls in love with her – a love that is all-consuming, eternal, pure, immutable and God-given. That is what happens to Werther when he sees Charlotte.
 Isabel Leonard and Juan Diego Florez. ROH 2019. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Apart from the romantic stratosphere that Werther and Charlotte occupy, they also live in a society where Christian teachings and virtues are strictly obeyed. Charlotte cannot marry Werther because she vowed to her mother that she will marry Albert (baritone Jacques Imbrailo). She does. Werther is devasted (and that is putting it very mildly) and he can’t do or think of anything else except of Charlotte and suicide.

The love based on Christian theology and morality does not permit even a thought of carnal contact. In fact, that would be blasphemy, a very serious sin. Werther and Charlotte have not kissed and have not even thought or imagined erotic connection.

We have to wait for a couple of hours for them to kiss and by that time he has shot himself with Albert’s gun and is dying. But he is so slow about it that they have time to consider redemption, the purity of their love, make funeral arrangements and meet the Solitary Reaper.

Whatever the problem of accepting the world that Massenet took from Goethe’s novel, the performers draw us into it with sheer vocal beauty. Florez can climb to high Cs with a single leap but Massenet makes few such demands. But the beauty of his tone and the depth of his emotional range keeps us watching intently.
Isabel Leonard and  Jacques Imbrailo. ROH 2019. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Isabel Leonard as Charlotte, the pure, obedient and unhappily married young women does not have to do much octave-leaping but she does have to draw our sympathy as we see and hear her distress, struggle, emotional turmoil and final release. She does it beautifully.

Her young sister Sophie is sung by the rising American soprano Heather Engebretson who provides some contrast to Charlotte and does fine vocal work.

Charles Edwards’ sets do the job. We start in the yard of the Bailli (Alastair Miles) where we see light streaming through an open gate. The second scene is outside by some stairs leading to the church. We see a mostly overcast but bright sky. The third scene is in the panelled, austere house of Albert and Charlotte and the final scene takes place in a miniature room where Werther is bleeding from the gunshot wound. There are several refences to blue sky but I did not see any of that.

Jacquot takes a conservative but solid approach to the opera and the result is an excellent production. Edward Gardner conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra through Massenet’s lush music. The recordings make it reasonably available but the opera  occupies an emotional and moral universe that may not be conducive to Werther becoming a frequently staged work.
Werther by Jules Massenet is being performed six times between September 17 and October 5, 2019 on various dates at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


James Karas

Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a sprawling, episodic play, written in verse in 1867. It has its defenders, but it is not an easy play to produce. Now David Hare has updated the play and he has called his Peter Gynt simply marked as “after Henrik Ibsen.”

It is still a big play with dozens of characters and numerous scenes that requires well over three hours to perform. Much of it is riveting theatre but the arc of Gynt’s life eventually begins to sag.

Hare moves the play from Norway to Scotland and Gynt’s adventures take us to Florida, North Africa, the sea and meetings with an array of people, cowgirls, hyenas, mythical characters and others.
 James McArdle and company. © to Manuel Harlan
The play opens in Scotland where Gynt (James McArdle) is returning from the war. He is greeted by his mother Agatha (Ann Louise Ross) and we quickly get a taste of his character. He tells his mother that he was on a great mission and begins describing the plot of The Guns of Navarone as if it is what he did. Peter is a fantasist, a liar, a dreamer, a braggart and a narcissist. But he is quite lovable because he is also useless, and we admire his ambitions and grandiose view of himself. Hare provides Gynt with a quarry of zingers that evoke considerable laughter.

Peter kidnaps Ingrid (Caroline Deyga), his former girlfriend on her wedding day and has sex with her. She asks him to marry her and he refuses. When she asks him why he went with her, he replies that the question requires a level of self-knowledge that he simply does not possess.

Peter is his mother’s son. Agatha is as much a fantasist as her son and she blames herself for her son’s character.

Peter does become a millionaire, the owner of a golf resort in Florida, a newspaper mogul and an obnoxious person but with a sense of humour. He pities anyone who does not have an adjective that describes him.

Peter’s travels and adventures continue through dreams, sea storms, travels, bankruptcy and encounters with the supernatural. Unfortunately, by the time all five acts come to an end with the numerous scene changes I found my attention flagging. I felt I had seen enough of the satire on individualism, uncontrolled capitalism and recent current events.

Hare cannot resist taking swipes at current politicians and you may well guess that a gold resort in Florida is not a coincidence.

James McArdle is on stage almost continuously and he deserves a standing ovation for his superb acting. Gynt goes from brash youth to old age where he is facing death. We see him in numerous guises and McArdle’s acting and stamina are admirable.

Ann Louise Ross is outstanding as Agatha, a tough, wiry woman who has a keen eye and an acerbic tongue. Anya Chalotra plays Sabine, the woman Peter falls in love with and she does a fine job in the role. The veteran Oliver Ford Davies is a mellow and convincing Button Moulder.

Peter Gynt contains several songs by Paul Englishby which I found insipid and unnecessary.

Richard Hudson’s sets and Dick Straker’s video projections were truly impressive and Chris Fisher’s illusions simply stunning.

Jonathan Kent’s directing is impressive with the number of cast members and scenes involved but there was not much he could do about the length of the play. He had to deal with the Olivier’s massive stage which is never easy to maneuver in.

Peter Gynt is the type of play that only an organization like the National Theatre can tackle in terms of financial and talent requirements. The production has many virtues but in the end the play lacks the strength to carry us through more than three hours of theatre.
Peter Gynt by David Hare after Henrik Ibsen continues in repertory until October 8, 2019 at the Olivier Stage, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Royal Opera House Covent Garden has revived for the third time director Kasper Holten’s visually stunning and vocally superb 2014 production of Don Giovanni. It features vocal splendour from bassos Erwin Schrott and Roberto Tagliavini and magnificent soprano singing from Malin Bystrom and Myrto Papatanasiu  And it has hugely imaginative designs and use of lighting.

Schrott as Don Giovanni and Tagliavini are a well-matched pair with big, resonant voices and physical agility. They can change identities with a switch of a coat and a hat, and they give a marvellous performance as rascals, master and servant duellers, abusers and vocal marvels. 
Production photo of Don Giovanni. © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Mark Douet
Malin Bystrom has a gorgeous, big voice and her performance as Donna Anna, the putative victim of Don Giovanni is second to none. I say putative because I am convinced that she was not assaulted by Don Giovanni at all. I state this on the information gleaned from the way Holten presents the opening scene.

In the first scene she comes out of her bedroom wearing a beautiful evening gown which means she just returned from a high society event. She is trying to prevent Don Giovanni from leaving her and not the opposite. Later she tells her fiancée Don Ottavio that Don Giovanni’s identity was concealed under a cloak and therefore she could not recognize him. We know that he had no cloak in fact and was fully visible.

In the end when she tells Ottavio  that she wants to wait a year before marrying him, it is for love of Don Giovanni and not for grieving for her father for whose death she is partly responsible. A fascinating portrayal of Donna Anna.

Myrto Papatanasiu sings Donna Elvira beautifully and with wonderful expressiveness. When she expresses her love and is not angry or vengeful, she is a woman in anguish, moving, lyrical, sometimes hopeful and always vocally wonderful. I had a problem with her failure to express her anger, indeed fury, when she declares her desire to be avenged on the treacherous Don Giovanni who seduced her and then abandoned her in a matter of days.  

Tenor Daniel Behle as Ottavio is a man of promises but no achievement. He wears a tuxedo in his first appearance which may mean he and Donna Anna just returned from the fancy gig. What does he do? He goes to bed and Donna Anna lets in a lusty visitor. Behle sings the gorgeous arias of the vacuous Don Ottavio very well. 
Leon Kosavic as Masetto and Louise Alder as Zerlina. 
© 2019 ROH. Photograph by Mark Douet
The peasant couple of Zerlina (Louise Alder) and Masetto (Leon Kosavic) are a delight. She is wearing a bridal gown and tosses her flower to the guests and has no difficulty handling the oafish Masetto. She almost leaves him at the altar, comforts him after he is thrashed and always ends up on top. Lovely singing and acting. Masetto sings well but he  is dressed in a fine suit. I think he should look more rural but it is a small point.

The staging has exceptionally high production values. The set by Es Devlin consists of a cubic two-story structure with staircases in the centre. It is set on a revolving stage with moveable panels providing a great deal of flexibility.

Holten goes much further than that in his imaginative use of lighting and video projections. In the opening scene we see projected on the “house” hundreds of names. They are the women that Don Giovanni seduced around Europe. We will see the projection a few times as a reminder of Giovanni’s character.

The mostly black and white projections will be varied as when the Commendatore (Brindley Sherratt) is murdered and the set is bathed in red. There is continuous and intelligent use of various light effects and video projection that add immensely to the quality of the production. All is done without resort to melodramatics. There is not even a speaking statue of the Commendatore, only a bust which is broken to pieces and the guilt-ridden Donna Anna picks from the floor.

Hartmut Haenchen conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus for a marvellous evening at the opera.
Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart is being performed eight times between September 16 and October 10, 2019 on various dates at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The 2019 production of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre directed by Federay Holmes and Elle While is pure excrement. It is not so much a performance as an endurance test. I lasted until intermission and left promptly.

As You Like It opens with the young Orlando complaining to the very old servant Adam about the treatment he is receiving from his older brother. Orlando is a man and is played by Bettrys Jones, a woman. Old Adam is played by Simon Scardfield, a young actor.

Duke Frederick is the bad guy and his brother Duke Senior is the good guy. Frederick deposed his brother who has gone to the Forest of Arden where he is living with some companions. Both parts are played by Lily Bevan who tries to be funny, uses her hands excessively and is less than you expect or deserve.

The main characters are Senior’s daughter Rosalind and Frederick’s daughter Celia. The two of them escape to the forest to be with Senior and seek love. Rosalind is played by Jack Laskey, a lanky man, two feet taller than Orlando with whom s/he will fall in love.

Celia is played by Nadia Nadarajah, a mute who communicates using sign language. That means that we do not hear any of her lines except when they are interpreted for us. Some of the other characters sign or appear to sign when addressing her. I thought some of them signed whether she was near them or not or they simply flailed their arms. Being unable to speak is indeed a tragedy but giving her a role like Celia makes no sense at all. Why would you do it?

Jaques, the character who delivers The Seven Ages of Man speech is played Sophie Stone. Initially I thought she had a bizarre accent but then I realized that she probably has a speech impediment. She used her arms a great deal and moved almost continually. The programme biography indicates that she is the Co-Founder of the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble Theatre Company which means her speaking disability is related to her hearing issues.

Twelve actors play twenty plus roles and one of the gimmicks is to have them change parts in front of the audience. They turn their coats inside out or some such effort and, presto, they become another character. If there is a rational reason for doing this, it has escaped me. Directorial arrogance, an attempt at being different or original may be the ungenerous explanation but I will leave it at that.

There are attempts to engage the yardlings but they were not nearly as successful as in Henry V. There were a few in the audience who found the gags hilarious but not that many. I lasted until the intermission of an unfunny, unShakespearean, unbelievable and unendurable performance.  
As You Like It by William Shakespeare continues until September 21, 2019 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London.  The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Shakespeare’s Henry V can be interpreted in many ways, but most people would agree that it is a patriotic play about a warrior king and it contains some very funny comic scenes. I can only describe the current production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as a patriotic, indeed jingoistic comedy that is directed at the yardlings in the audience and in fact makes them a part of the performance.

For those who have not been to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, the yardlings are several hundred people who stand in front of the stage and they can become part of the performance when the actors address them directly and they react with great enthusiasm. 
Sarah Amankwah as Henry V. Photot © Tristam Kenton
It can be entertaining and bring howls of laughter during comic scenes. But in this production directors Sarah Bedi and Federay Holmes have geared much of the performance towards the involvement of the audience. Characters can interact with other characters, but they may not ignore inciting the audience directly for very long.

A look, a doubletake, a gesture, a grimace and many other gags are used throughout the performance to establish direct contact with the audience and frequently get a huge laugh or an enthusiastic reaction. The text becomes almost secondary to getting a laugh from the audience.

That is only one part of the tricks that the directors use. When Corporal Nym (Helen Schlesinger), one of Falstaff’s old cronies, speaks in his opening scene he adds the word “hashtag” numerous times and the yardlings find it just hilarious. He stops it when it starts to lose steam. The King of France adds “Ou la la” to one of his lines and brings the house down. Pistol (Colin Hurley) throws a leek to a member of the audience who bites into it. Riotous reaction. The trick hit bottom for me when Hostess Quickly’s (Jonathan Broadbent) description of the death of Falstaff was turned into a dirty joke.      

The fashion of transgender and transracial casting has become so entrenched that it would take a brave director to ignore it. Bedi and Federay are not taking any chances. Some male roles and vice versa being played by an actor of the opposite sex may be praiseworthy casting provided there is a reason for the choice rather than following the fashion. King Henry is played by Sarah Amankwah, a woman with a sinewy body and a full-throttled voice, who gives us an interesting warrior and national hero. Henry wants to be heroic, noble and generous and yet orders his soldiers to kill all their prisoners. He is a man who is very particular about his legal right to invade France while at the same time being conscious that he is king by virtue of usurpation and murder of the rightful king.

What is the point of Nina Bowers playing the roles of four men? What do we gain by Jonathan Broadbent playing the Earl of Westmoreland and Hostess Quickly? Most of the actors are given multiple roles. Sophie Russell for example plays five characters but they are all men, French and English. Helen Schlesinger plays four roles, three men and one woman. Some of the role changes were done in front of the audience with the simple change of a coat. Ten actors handle all the roles but to what end? 
Colin Hurley and Steffan Donnelly in Henry V. Photo: Tristram Kenton
In one instance, the result is moving Henry V from a history play to a farce. Colin Hurley plays five roles including that of Katherine, the French princess. She appears in two scenes. In one she is taught a few words of English and it is indeed a funny scene. The other is the courtship/love scene between Henry and her. We can imagine Katherine as the pretty princess being wooed by the handsome conqueror. But Hurley is a middle-aged, balding and hefty actor and there is no attempt to hide the fact. He is obviously a man in drag and both scenes look farcical and ridiculous.  

There is a strong patriotic element to the play and the production plays it up to the hilt with the yardlings lapping it up. It is expressed in strong anti-French fervor and I thought that any minute they would yell “get those garlic eaters, Henry” or some other noble sentiment like that. When Henry finishes his exhortation to the troops by telling them to fight for Harry, England and St. George there was an immediate and palpable expression of patriotic fervor from the yardlings and I thought all of them would enlist on the spot if asked to.

The production was gimmicky, full of gags and played to the lowest common denominator and relied on getting laughs at all costs. Is this Shakespeare for the tourists who are not theatre goers? Are they trying to attract audiences by dummying up Shakespeare? I don’t know and I don’t like it.

Shakespeare and the audience deserve a lot better.
Henry V by William Shakespeare continues in repertory until October 11, 2019 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. www.shakespearesglobe.comThe Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

James Karas is the Senior Editor- Culture of The Greek Press.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


James Karas 

The comedy of Aristophanes is often better in the imagination than on stage. It is like the old dictum about translation: if it is faithful, it is ugly; if it is beautiful it is unfaithful. It is impossible to be faithful to his great comedies which are rooted in fifth century B.C. Athenian life and politics. No matter how many footnotes you read, you will not get many laughs.

Aristophanes’ Clouds was performed in 423 B.C. at the Great Dionysia Festival and it got THIRD prize.  He was properly urinated off and some years later revised the play by adding a Poet as a character (himself, in other words) you gave feces to everyone for not getting FIRST prize in 423. That version was never produced and it is the only one that survived with some problems about the text.
Let’s face it from the outset that if Aristophanes wrote and produced plays in almost any age in the last two thousand four hundred and fifty years, give or take, he and the cast would have ended up in jail. Period. In Ancient Athens he was not jailed and has been considered one of the real comic geniuses ever since.

Strepsiadis (Yorgos Gallos), an old peasant, married a snooty city girl and has a useless son, Pheidippides, (Aineias Tsamatis) who blows money on horses and sinks his father in debt. Strepsiadis is pursued by creditors and is desperate to find a way of getting rid of them.

He decides to go to Socrates’ school to learn how to win in court against his creditors. Socrates (Nikos Karathanos) is a buffoon who is seen at the top of a turquoise, square structure. It has flaps that open and we see some action inside it.

The Clouds are a motley group of goddesses who bring rain and are responsible for a great deal. They are mostly men in drag in this production and a wild group of generators of laughter.

There is a serious side to the comedy in its presentation of newfangled ideas versus the old traditional ways. There is a personification of Right or Just Argument (Karyofyllia Karampeti) and Wrong or Unjust Argument (Theodora Tzimou) who argue at some length about the new and old way of thinking.
Translator Giannis Asteris and director Dimitris Karantzas with dramaturge Theodora Kapranou produce a hilarious play by being seriously unfaithful to Aristophanes. They use raunchy language, describe bodily functions, display body parts, refer to current events and create a hilarious play. If you ever heard the phrase “the reign of the phallus” you will get a better idea of its meaning from this production. No translation of the play however loose, can bring the laughter and joy that the cast does. 

Gallos is a marvelous comic who in trying to get his son to join the new methods of thinking and cheating learns that the old ways were not so bad. Karathanos is a hilariously clownish Socrates, the man who runs the new thinking school that has vice triumph over virtue. Socrates gets a pretty bad thrashing in the play.

Karampeti and Tzimou are very funny as Right and Wrong with the Chorus providing some huge chunks of entertainment.

This is a freewheeling approach to Aristophanes that manages to be faithful to his spirit while unfaithful to the strictures of the text. My guess is that Aristophanes would have loved it.
Clouds by Aristophanes, translated by Giannis Asteris, was performed on September 7, 2019 at the Petres Theatre, Petroupoli, Athens, Greece.  

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Monday, September 16, 2019


James Karas

Elefsina can be known for many things but most of us recognize it as the city of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries and the birthplace of Aeschylus. It was known as Eleusis at the time. The municipality of some 30,000 inhabitants northwest of Athens is sufficiently developed to be named the European Capital of Culture for 2021.

One of the reasons for the honour being bestowed may be the annual Aeschylia Festival which is celebrating its 45th year. It takes place from August 25 to September 28 this year bringing a wide range of cultural events to the city. Included are a number of productions by the major theatre companies of Greece. I was able to see Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis in a performance by the National Theatre of Northern Greece. The production had already been was seen in Thessaloniki and Epidaurus and is currently touring other parts of Greece. 
Iphigeneia was written between 408 and 406 B.C and it is probably Euripides’ last play. He died in 406 B.C. It is based on the myth of the House of Atreus and deals with the start of the Greek expedition to Troy for the Trojan War.

The Greek fleet, the famous one thousand ships, are gathered to be launched to rescue the beautiful Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. She was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy and the Greeks want revenge. But the fleet cannot sail because the goddess Artemis is angry with Agamemnon, the leader of the expedition. She demands that he sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia.

He hesitates but eventually relents and asks his wife Clytemnestra to bring their daughter to Aulis on the ruse that Iphigeneia will marry the great Greek hero Achilles. There is much conflict as may be expected and Iphigeneia is eventually sacrificed willingly. The state of the text is uncertain and she may not have been sacrificed but spirited away by the goddess with a deer taking her place. We are not sure, but we do eventually find her in Tauris.    

The production is played in the converted yard of an old soap factory, the Palaio Elaiourgeio. Risers are installed in a semi-circle and the playing area is covered with a powder of dirt.

Director Yannis Kalavrianos adds his own touches to the production some of which work, and many seem unfortunate. When the performance begins we see a half-naked man with the blue head of a deer over his face enter the playing area and leave two microphone stands. The deer is associated with Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and this “deer” will remain on stage throughout the performance.

At one point he is seen playing happily with Iphigeneia at the back of the playing area while the other characters are interacting. At the end, he shows up at the sacrificial altar and takes off the deer head. Thought-provoking, no doubt, but what does it all mean?

Kalavrianos’ handling of the Chorus is all over the place. They are young, married women from Chalcis, a city across the bay from Aulis. Their movements or dances if you want to be generous are not synchronized and they are seen running around the playing area for reasons that escaped me. A one point the stage is turned into a disco area with a couple of members going to microphones and belting out songs. 
There are some serious conflicts in the play. Menelaus (Nikolas Marangolpoulos) the cuckolded husband of Helen wants the expedition to go forward. Agamemnon (Yorgos Glastras) has a horrible dilemma choosing between the will of the goddess and his duty to all the gathered chieftains and troops, and his duty to protect his daughter. Clytemnestra (Maria Tsima) has come to Aulis expecting Iphigeneia to marry Achilles (Thanasis Raftopoulos) only to find out that her daughter is about to be sacrificed and for what? To rescue the slut Helen?

Iphigenia (Anthi Efstratiadou) goes from delicious happiness to disbelief and horror, to acceptance of her fate. That is a huge emotional upheaval for a young girl. Efstratiadou handles her role superbly. She is playful with her loving father, shocked at her fate and on her knees begging him not to kill her. Near the end when she accepts her fate she starts sounding like a politician cheering on the troops to fight and sacrifice their lives for love of their country and for glory. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Is there no irony in what she is saying? Is a declamatory style of best way to deliver these lines? Is there n o other emotion except jingoism for her to express?

Most of the lines spoken by the main characters including the Old Man (Yorgos Kafkas) and the Messenger (Christos Stylianou) are delivered in a declamatory style from a firmly standing position. More vocal modulation, physical movement and interaction may have helped the tone of the entire production.

And may I mention something in passing. Delays in starting a performance are not unusual and there may be good reasons for them. But if you keep an audience waiting for over half an hour, they are entitled to an explanation, at least, and even an apology. Nothing was offered.
Iphigeneia at Aulis by Euripides, translated by Pantelis Boukalas, was performed on September 6, 2019 at the Palaio Elaiourgeio Elefsinas, Elefsina, Greece.   

Sunday, September 15, 2019


James Karas

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. 
Suppliants is not one of Euripides’ best plays and he seemed to be running out of material near the end and may have padded a bit. There is a melodramatic scene with Iphis (Thodoris Katsafados), the father of Evadne (Katerina Loura). The latter gives a dramatic performance when she appears near the end of the play in a bridal gown and goes to the funeral pyre to burn with the remains of her husband.

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.