Magazine article Newsweek

Greece's Real-Life Drama Is Being Played out in European Theaters; A Spate of Greek Tragedy Revivals That Speak to the Current Crisis

Magazine article Newsweek

Greece's Real-Life Drama Is Being Played out in European Theaters; A Spate of Greek Tragedy Revivals That Speak to the Current Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: Harry Eyres

At the beginning of this year, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras compared the contemporary fate of cash-strapped Greece to Sophocles's tragedy Antigone, written in Athens over 2,400 years ago. In that play, Antigone defies her uncle Creon's edict to leave her renegade brother Polyneices's corpse unburied; she says she is following divine justice, not arbitrary human law. Tsipras likened the blinkered imposition of fiscal rectitude by Greece's main creditors--the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund--to Creon's narrow legalism, and his ruling left-wing Syriza party's stand against austerity to Antigone's noble defiance: "Greece is the country of Sophocles," he declared, "who taught us with his Antigone that there are moments in which the supreme law is justice."

That things didn't turn out quite as Tsipras hoped--he essentially gave in to pressure from the creditors and agreed to a new round of budget cuts--should come as no surprise to aficionados of Greek tragedy, a form built on unhappy reversals of fortune. It is probably no coincidence that three productions of Aeschylus's great trilogy The Oresteia have been showing or are about to open in Britain, two in London and one in Manchester. A production of Antigone, starring French movie star Juliette Binoche, has just wrapped up a world tour. The Almeida Theater in London is in the middle of a "Greeks" season featuring two plays by Euripides.

A growing number of directors and theater managers appear to believe that these ancient plays have important things to say about our contemporary crises. The electrifying production of The Oresteia at Shakespeare's Globe in South London draws a straight line between ancient and modern by evoking the Athens of 2015 with graffiti-scrawled walls and sinister-looking riot police with black berets and short-handled truncheons. …

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