REVIEW OF 2019 ATHENS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
Ancient Greek Tragedy may be difficult to do well but the current production of Oedipus Rex is a prime example of what a brilliant director can do with a superb cast. The production by Athinaika Theatra, directed by Konstantinos Markoulakis was first performed at the Ancient Theatre of Dodoni in Epirus and was shown at Epidaurus before setting on a tour across Greece. I caught its penultimate performance at the Melina Mercouri Open Air Theatre in Vironas, near Athens on September 3, 2019.
Oedipus Rex tells part of the tragic story of the Royal House of Thebes in which the decent and capable king is discovered to have unwittingly killed his father and then married his mother. Fearful of the oracle that prophesied that he would be killed by his son, King Laius tied the feet of the newborn and gave him to a servant to dispose of him.
The child was Oedipus whose name means swollen feet and his life was saved by a shepherd. He grew up in Corinth but as an adult he returned to Thebes and saved the city from the murderous Sphinx by solving the riddle. He became king.
But Thebes was struck by plague, people were dying, the crops withered, and women aborted their children. The oracle at Delphi through the blind seer Tiresias tells them that the city must be cleansed of the murderer of King Laius. The search ultimately leads to none other than Oedipus having killed Laius without knowing that he was in fact his father.
Dimitris Lignadis gives an outstanding performance as Oedipus. We see him as the imperial king of Thebes, a commanding presence who shows genuine concern for the people who have come to the palace. He displays the strength and assurance of a leader determined to find the truth with the knowledge that he is innocent.
Lignadis has a powerful voice, a marvelous stage presence and a superb dramatic range. We see his Oedipus unravel slowly as the terrible truth is revealed to him. When he realizes what he has done he lets out a semi-sung howl that echoes against the cliffs that embrace the theatre and reverberates down the millennia to a similar howl roared by King Lear many centuries later. A bravura performance.
Amalia Moutousi as Jocasta makes a splendid consort for Oedipus. She is regal, self-assured, supportive of her husband and refuses to believe the rumours. Again, we see all of that undercut by the truth that is sweeping her husband off his feet. She is destroyed by it. A superb performance.
The Chorus of Theban elders is handled with outstanding ability and variety. They come carrying dolls with their feet tied. Half of them carry musical instruments such as drums, a saxophone, cymbals and an accordion. The music, especially the use of the drums, is a significant addition to the drama.
The performance is done on a completely bare stage. There is not even an indication of a palace door. Nothing is needed when the text is treated with amazing effectiveness by the actors and the chorus.
Kudos are well deserved by the supporting actors. Nikos Chatzopoulos as Creon, Konstantinos Avarikiotis as Tiresias, Giorgos Ziovas as the Messenger, Giorgos Psychogios as the Shepherd and Nikolas Hanakoulas as the Messenger.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, translated by Giannis Lignadis, was performed on September 3, 2019 at the Melina Mercouri Open Air Theatre, Vironas, Athens, Greece.