Aristophanes’ Plutus | Dionysis Savvopoulos

12-13th July 2013 | Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, Greece

Dionysis Savvopoulos is a famous composer and lyricist in Greece, popular in the late sixties but still apparently popular enough to be able to make his ‘directing’ debut in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus.

The play is Aristophanes’ usually less popular Plutus, although in Greece’s current political climate it seems an obvious choice. Plutus, the god of wealth, was blinded by Zeus to prevent him from giving wealth to people who actually deserve it. Chremylos, an Athenian, plans to cure him so that the virtuous (such as himself) will instead become rich. The goddess of poverty tries to persuade him that this is a bad idea, since the economy will no longer function – there would be no slaves, and nobody would work hard and create luxury goods. Chremylos gets Plutus’ eyesight restored at the temple of Asclepius (which is actually next to Epidaurus), and the world is turned upside-down. A series of characters come to Chremylos’ household, the nouveaux riches and the recently impoverished bankers. Eventually Hermes turns up to complain that people no longer sacrifice to the Olympian gods, and humbly asks if he can work as a servant.

The play itself is a biting political satire that is more relevant than ever. Savvopoulos obviously had a strong political voice in the sixties, and appears to be a Bob Dylan-like figure for the Greeks. It is a shame, then, that this production is so tame and vaguely directed, that any intention of political agitation it might have is made irrelevant by the old fashioned performance mode and delivery that takes no chances with the Epidaurus audience.

Savvopoulos himself performed as Zeus. Perhaps an appropriate role for the director to deliver his didactic message, but unfortunately he came across as both narcissistic and incompetent. His delivery actually showed the professionalism of the other actors wh,o while they were clichéd and flailing around from lack of direction, at least delivered their text properly. Watching Savvopoulos try to ‘act’ and speak unamplified to the thousands filling Epidaurus was painful. If he had come on honestly and spoken informally as himself with a microphone I could have forgiven the narcissism.

Special mention needs to be made of Amalia Moutousi, as Poverty, who was the most accomplished of the actors but had unfortunately been given a sweet and delicate song to sing. I am amazed that a director who is apparently a musician persisted in asking her to sing this after having heard her try once, and she was struggling badly in spite of the obvious assistance of a hidden microphone. This is a fault of the director, not the actress, who has a powerful and characterful deep voice and presence during the rest of the performance.

The chorus were all very skilled, and clearly well rehearsed and slick in everything they did. They seemed to be a mix of musicians and acrobats, and they saved the production from being entirely directionless. Their entrance was particularly memorable and absurd – a very slow progression into and around the orchestra, led by disjointed repetitive sequences of movement and sounds by each chorus member – including the one man band – all taken very seriously. This was the only time the production escaped its circus and pantomime stereotypes into something more abstract and absurd.

The space of Epidaurus is obviously magnificent, and while the chorus made good use of the orchestra generally, there was nothing new or interesting about the small wooden stage with red curtains that the actors didn’t seem to realise were slightly translucent when lit. It seemed to have been built only for the purpose of the ending which involved it collapsing. However, it fell in to such safe and neat sections that it was a pathetic gesture – especially in that enormous space.

I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to make a safe and hackneyed version of a political play about the economy in Greece right now, but somehow Savvopoulos has managed it.

About Ivor Houlker

Ivor runs Rooftop Productions in Hong Kong, a theatre company known for multidisciplinary contemporary work. He trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and completed his MA in performance at Goldsmiths College, London.

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