Review: A Greek Tragedy Tryptich

Antígona / Antigone directed by Miguel del Arco. Photo: Luis Castilla.

Triple tragedy at Barcelona’s Teatre Lliure this last weekend with three Greek plays in Spanish! Oedipus Rex, Antigone (both Sophocles) and Medea (Euripides), directed by Alfredo Sanzol, Miguel del Arco and Andrés Lima respectively, were Teatro de la Abadia / Teatro de la Ciudad co-productions, though I suspect the funding was not evenly distributed. They had premiered in Madrid between 2013 – 2015 and were selected as a pack by the Lliure to offer something to those members of their public who like to occasionally watch things in Spanish.
Greek dramas are like an epic family disaster movie, the characters of which reappear or are referenced to in subsequent works. I saw the plays on consecutive nights but in the reverse chronological order, starting on Friday with Medea, a play about a woman who kills her children to take revenge on her cheating husband. As a character, Medea passed through a feminist phase in the 20th century with filmmaker Lars von Trier perhaps best representing her as an earthy, alienated psychopath in his 1988 film. I wondered how this Spanish production would present her given the ongoing national campaign against gender violence.

Medea directed by Andrés Lima. Photo by Luis Castilla.

Medea (played by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) was interpreted as a mad screaming sex-crazed maniac, really squashing any sympathy for the character. The object of her passion, Jason – and indeed all the other male characters – were played by actor/director Andrés Lima, a man with an imposing physical presence. During a speech, he took a wander through the audience, struggling down one steep set of steps from the stage and then struggling back up on the other side, one felt quite sympathetic to him. The doomed children were played by two small spooky mannequins wedged into kneeling positions. In their death scene, (that occurs off set in the Euripides play), Medea throws one at the stage and its head falls off. The other is winched up on a wire by one kneeling leg, while Jason is made to watch. It is then dropped from the lights – head and limbs go flying. ‘If only that could have been me!’ cries Jason. The unlikely image of Lima being winched above the stage remains with me still.

Antigona directed by Miguel del Arco. Photo: Luis Castilla.

Antígona (played by Manuela Paso) directed by Miguel del Arco, was a more accomplished performance – although again I had trouble understanding the fast Greek-Spanish and can’t really judge its verbal merits. Visually, the company made effective use of an enormous ball above the stage which morphed into a moon, a globe and even Antigone’s place of live burial, with her bobbing about inside. As in the Ivo van Hove version of the play, King Creon was the real tragic star; a dictatorial arrogant man who sticks to the (his) rules no matter what, in this production the role was played by the acclaimed Spanish actress Carmen Machi, who, with thigh high leather boots and a blonde bob haircut, was most certainly done up to remind us of Angela Merkel.

Oedipus Rex directed by Alfredo Sanzol. Photo: Luis Castilla.

Edipo Rey (played by Juan Antonio Lumbreras) was actually a joy, ideal for students and foreigners. Alfredo Sanzol had abridged and simplified the play, done away with theatrical and linguistic complications, and apparently instructed his actors to deliver their lines directly to the audience in clear shouted Spanish from a table at the front of the stage. Occasionally, one or two of them would stand up then sit down again, trumpet-like, and the only action that had taken place by the end was a slight shuffling of places. The man next to me in the audience slept peacefully throughout, and the rest of us left this distressing Sophoclean tragedy confusingly relaxed and upbeat.