The National Theatre of Greece opens this year’s summer season at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus with Euripides’ Hippolytus. The production is directed by Katerina Evangelatos, working with a superb creative team and a twenty-six-strong company of actors and musicians, and will be performed on 7 and 8 July.
Hippolytus, which was performed at the first-ever (unofficial) Epidaurus Festival in 1954, is presented here in a daring production that highlights the brutality of Euripides’ world, the crucial power of passion in our lives, the barrenness of existence, the catastrophic consequences of obduracy, and the transcendence of natural laws and human limits.
Hippolytus, the illegitimate son of Theseus and a faithful follower of Artemis, has taken a vow of chastity, rejecting carnal desire and denigrating the female sex. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, punishes him for his lack of respect towards her by making his stepmother, Phaedra, fall in love with him. The production focuses on Aphrodite, who watches with voyeuristic pleasure as mortals become playthings of her vengeful whims. Her gaze becomes ours as the characters are stripped bare, their naked bodies conveying the explosiveness, lust and lasciviousness – but also the purity – of the human race.
Who is responsible for tragedy, gods or men? This is the question that Euripides addresses here. In the hands of the playwright, the mythical motif of a woman's sexual desire for a younger man is elevated into an unrelenting conflict between human will and divine power. The director dives into the heart of this dilemma with a meticulous and sensitive exploration of binary oppositions, thereby highlighting the complexity of the psychological and moral issues that the play touches on: abstinence and lust, the sacred and the profane; revenge and sacrifice; speech and silence.
The production is set in a marshy, dystopian landscape with grasses and water, reflecting the wasteland of human existence. Aphrodite holds a camera and – accompanied by evocative music – films every aspect and detail of the action and shows it live and unedited to the public in a single shot. The actors move throughout the space of the ancient theatre, in, around and behind the orchestra, between dreams and reality, negotiating the obstacles that lie between chastity and lust, between ignorance and knowledge, and between mankind’s fall and our redemption.
Hippolytus was staged for the first time at the National Theatre of Greece in 1937, in a production directed by Dimitris Rondiris, starring Alexis Minotis as Hippolytus and Katina Paxinou as Phaedra. In 1953, Rondiris again directed the play for the NTG, this time at the Herodes Atticus in Athens, with Alekos Alexandrakis as Hippolytus and Elsa Vergi as Phaedra. The production was performed at Epidaurus the following summer, which gave the impetus for the official inauguration of the Epidaurus Festival in 1955, where it was staged once again.
Photo: Andreas Simopoulos