Aristophanes translated and adapted by George Savvides and Ted Craig
George Eugeniou continues his welcome revivals of classical Greek plays with another of Aristophanes’ comedies.
He adds his own updating to Savvides and Craig’s adaptation and it is a rumbustious entertainment with some delightful music by Matthew McCann and Georgia Kokkinou.
The Frogs is not the easiest comedy to make relevant to a modern audience. The god Dionysus wanting to sort out Athens’s problems by bringing back a dead dramatist back from Hades may highlight modern Greece’s need for some magical solution to the current crisis but any political message in the original satire is not easy to uncover for a modern audience.
The styles of two dramatic poets of 2,400 years ago aren’t now sufficiently known to make a competition between them funny, nor are the past deeds of Hercules familiar, so the trouble that Dionysus gets into by disguising himself as the muscular hero to aid his entry into Hades doesn’t have the same resonance.
To make it work for a contemporary audience outside academia, the play needs either exhaustive updating or to place its emphasis on the broadest humour—and unlike some of his other work The Frogs isn’t particularly bawdy.
The play kicks off with a lively chorus as Dionysus disguises himself as Hercules, though their medley of accents doesn’t help comprehension and the breakneck speed of the opening scene doesn’t help either. The style edges towards energetic abandon, though the songs fortunately take things more leisurely.
Tino Orsini has a strong presence as Dionysus, who, we are told, “knows all about art with a capital F”, in contrast to his slave Xanthias (Mark Minshall) mounted on a donkey, a bicycle body, who is a nervy neurotic.
There is a welcome jokiness in a chorus of frogs (Katherina Reinhaller, Priscilla Fere, Nives Jahibasic and Paul Morais) who sing “What is the point of a couple of frogs in a play about poets of a bygone age?” and their leaping brings a welcome brightness. They live in the Styx across which Marco Aponte’s Charon rows Dionysus in a comic cartoon of a boat.
When playwrights Euripides and Aeschylus are called to compete to decide which shall return to the living to guide Athens, their contest descends into a chaotic shouting match. Instead of Dionysus sitting in judgement with the contenders confronting each other, they seem to take it in turns occupying the seat of judiciary.
Aponte’s Euripides, eyes up to heaven or cast to the ground, waves his arms, moving like out-of-control semaphore. David Middleton’s clear-spoken Aesychlus holds onto his dignity longer, though wandering all over the place.
This argument is the heart of the play, but instead of building it starts at full throttle and that makes it seem too long. There is plenty of energy and passion but very little sense of control. Fortunately Jackie Skarvellis as Aeaca, who has been turned into a self-obsessed Hollywood film star in this version, has control in abundance and turns in a display of careful timing and vocal clarity.
References to the “plutocracy on Capitol Hill” and “Golden Dawn” and a catalogue of 20th century American playwrights don’t exactly turn this into a topical satire.
When Stephen Sondheim and Bert Shevelove made their version, they turned Aeschylus and Euripides into Shakespeare and Shaw and perhaps it might work more pointedly with Priestley and Pinter or some other more recently deceased pairing, but in the end it is the comic skills of the performers that are the core to putting it over rather than any intellectual cleverness.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton