Six Nights on the Acropolis
George Seferis, adapted by Anastasia Revi and Faidra Fairaki
Theatre Lab Company and the Hellenic Centre
Nobel Laureate, Greek poet and diplomat George Seferis wrote nothing for the theatre and only one novel, the one on which this play is based. It began as material written as a young man in the 1920s, a few years after Greeks had been forced out of Smyrna and Athens and been flooded with refugees. He returned to that early attempt at a novel in the 1950s but decided against publication—which happened only after his death.
The Seferiades (Seferis is a pen name) came from not far away on the Asian coast but the family was well connected, his father close to the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos. They weren’t starving refugees but Seferis was not used to life in Athens for even before that exodus he had been a student in Paris and had spent time in England. He thought of himself as a returned “exile” who still needed “to find my path in my own country”. He was also having a complex personal life, engaged to one girl in Paris and getting involved with two in Athens. The novel draws on these personal experiences and so, of course, does this play.
This adaptation attempts to echo the way the novel blends reality and fantasy with a visual theatricality. It presents its text bilingually—giving direct speech in English, narration in Greek with surtitles translating each language—and it punctuates the text with songs. The songs are not translated so I don’t know how well their lyrics fit, though the first, which opens the show, is a well-loved setting of the Seferis poem Denial, which links directly with the seashore setting of the first scene.
The book is not so much concerned with plot as with character and poetic ideas. It presents a group of young people, friends of the “exile’’ Stratis, who stands for Seferis himself both here and in some of his poetry, who decide to meet on the Acropolis for six months on the night of every full moon.
This adaptation presents them making that decision and gathering together, following the pattern of Stratis’s love life with a bisexual young woman called Salome and with Salome’s other partner. It is a relatively thin storyline surrounded by what seems relatively banal upper-class chitchat, but Greek ideas are often difficult to translate: “moment by moment, we are giving birth to statues” sounds beautifully poetic but what does it mean? Though there is a strong performance from Matias Di Masso as Stratis, most of the young actors playing his friends are not native English-speakers, so their unusual stressing of words does not help sense: what sometimes comes over as satire on a pretentious society may actually have had more profound meaning.
The moon itself is personified in the form of a caryatid holding first one shining globe then, with some aid from attendants displaying six of them, a representation of the moonlight that, as Seferis described it, “plunged over them all like a fishnet woven of violet steel”. That also references Stratis likening himself to an Erechtheion caryatid that has been spirited abroad (to the British Museum) and replaced by a copy.
Maira Vazeou’s design presents these well-off young socialites in pristine white with touches in the ladies' headdresses to link them with the classical allusions and Acropolis setting and Yiannis Katsaris lights it atmospherically.
Anastasia Revi’s direction is most successful in creating a strong theatrical atmosphere, a pattern of movement that holds the attention and creating fine stage pictures within a minimalist production. Revi also shares the narration with Stamatis Kraounakis. She moves around the space with dramatic intensity, speaking in her rich voice, while Kraounakis stays seated at the piano at which he plays and sings the songs, most of which mark out each episode. They all seem well-known ones, though I understand the final one was specially written by him.
Kraounakis is little known to British audiences but well-known in Greece as a singer, songwriter, actor and director. A big man with an even bigger personality, he generates a boundless theatricality with a great sense of timing. With a lesser talent, it could seem overblown but with him it is skilful and exciting.
Greek literary circles were quite snooty about Six Nights when the novel was first published in 1974. I have not read it so cannot comment but this production spins it into a sophisticated entertainment that gains considerably from the inserted musical elements.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton