Aristophanes Now

Stamatis Kraounakis & Speira Speira

Speira Speira

RADA Studio

From 17 April 2013 to 18 April 2013

Review by Howard Loxton

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Perhaps for you, as for me, Stamatis Kraounakis is a new name, but in Greece he has been a fixture in the music scene for more than 20 years as composer, writer, singer and performer. He has made over 50 albums, written 20 musical shows, music for movies and for many plays and a ballet. Spiera Spiera is a company formed in 1999 by a group of actors, singers and musicians who had taken part in a seminar led by Kraounakis that has been running successfully since.

Their show opens with a voice shouting out the achievements and relevance of ancient playwright Aristophanes, his themes and his dreams, how he turned his targets into animals to avoid censorship, attacked poverty and war: the Peloponnesian War then, it’s an economic war now.

Kraounakis himself then enters as Aristophanes. He is a big man, both in girth and in personality, and moves slowly centre stage to bang his staff on the floor in the continental tradition. That sets things in motion and he remains, a control presence who presides over everything and sometimes joins in.

What follows is a succession of numbers that draw on Aristophanes' plays, and especially their choruses. The modern Greek lyrics sometimes have obvious modern relevance, sometimes the comment is more general and I don’t know how closely they follow Aristophanes. There are English translations in the programme but, despite the clarity of the singing, you would have to have pretty good Greek to understand more than the occasional phrase. For the non-Greek audience, the show has to work through its music and its presentation—and it does.

Kraounakis’ music has a definitive Greekness. It draws on the operatic, traditional folksong, Orthodox Church music, modern laiki and the pulsing rhythms of rock, taking something from every aspect of Greek music. It is splendidly sung by a company that not only have strong voices but are good movers, and all very personable. You don’t have to understand what they are singing to be caught up in its feeling and its great sense of fun for Angeliki Stellatou’s choreography is often wickedly witty.

The design by takis is kept simple, with projections on two screens that hide the band, lighting creating the setting. The cast are all in white, most with heavily stylized makeup. Costumes are timeless but draw on many individual features from different periods of Greek history from the classical to the modern. Dick Straker’s video design includes magical transformations in which abstract patterns morph into representational images and it often reinforces the political contents of particular numbers.

Kraounakis’s music is a delight, the energy of the performers endless and (on the day which saw Lady Thatcher laid to rest) this felt like a surge of belief that there is such a thing as society. Stimulating and life affirming it’s the kind of show that makes you want to be part of it.

These performances of Aristophanes Now are the culmination of a tour that opened in Athens at the beginning of March and has played in Istanbul and Timisoara (Romania). It is a crying shame that it has only three London performances for it is a life enhancing show that brings joy.