WHICH COUNTRY DO WE WANT ?,
- Menelaos Karantzas, Dramaturg - Theatre Director
A statement like “I want a country” is quite ambiguous: any reference or connotation it may imply for the desired country can relate either to the country one lives in or to the country one wants to move to. In other words, the subtext for “I want a country” could either be “I want a new country to take refuge in” or “I want to renew my own country”. Andreas Flourakis used this wishful statement as the title for his latest play, whose two productions so far in London and in Athens have proved that both the above interpretations are equally valid.
I happened to be among the 100 or so members of the audience of the show that took place at Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, in London, on Friday June 28, 2013 as part of The Big Idea: PIIGS project. The main theme for The Big Idea: PIIGS project was Europe’s economic crisis and how people from five European countries live through austerity and how they experience it; this has been the challenge for five playwrights, from Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (thus the acronym PIIGS) to write a play on the subject and also for five British writers to respond to the above plays with their owns. This process resulted in a five-night theatre festival (25-29 June, 2013) where each night one play from each of the above countries was presented and it was followed by a corresponding play that a British playwright had written. The most interesting fact of the project was the display of two points of view regarding the financial crisis issue: there was one point of view from each country dealing with the issue and another presenting the effects of it as seen from a foreigner’s perspective. All plays were based on real interviews taken from people living in the countries in question, who talked about how austerity has affected their lives; these interviews were the raw material for the quick and impulsive responses from the playwrights to what happens here and now in each occasion; each night after the two plays were on, parts of the interviews were presented on stage by the actors participating in the plays. The purpose of The Big Idea: PIIGS project was to intensely and authentically show the consequences of financial crisis on people’s everyday lives and the ways people have in order to resist against those allegedly responsible for it (politicians, bankers etc), while the British playwrights’ participation highlighted the fact that what happens in continental Europe concerns people in the United Kingdom who need to get interested and be activated. A special feature of the project was the fact that all plays were directed by the same person, Richard Twyman, and the same creative and production team worked for all of them. It was also one of the project’s requirements that the common group of actors rehearsed and worked for each country’s plays only for a day. What the audience experienced was very close to documentary theatre, particularly as far as the interviews’ part was concerned, and at least for the Greek night the audience, consisting mainly of London residents of Greek origin and British spectators, participated actively.
The abridged version of Andreas Flourakis’ play I Want a Country that was presented at the Royal Court had been translated by Alexi Kaye Campbell (Greek born playwright who has moved abroad as an adult); the latter had also written the play Mr Brown, Mrs Paparigopoulos & the Interpreter which was presented right after the Greek one. Four actors (Paul Chalidi, Mariah Gale, Dimitra Kreps και Meera Syal) starred on both plays and acted out the interviews.
I Want a Country premiered in Athens, in its full form and in Greek, on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 July 2015, at the D Space of the Peiraios 260 venue during the Athens Festival, co-produced by the Festival and the Greek Art Theatre Karolos Koun, and directed by Marianna Kalbari. 40 young actors, all recent graduates or current students of the Drama School of the Greek Art Theatre, led by Reni Pittaki who was the special guest star, filled up the huge stage of the D Space and performed in front of an audience of about 700 people each night in two sold out performances; I happened to be one of the spectators on Thursday night.
The detailed mentioning of spaces and numbers is not random at all: it’s an objective point of comparison for the two productions of I Want a Country in London and in Athens, it gives a clear enough idea of the general atmosphere of each one of them and, to a degree, supports my initial remark regarding the two interpretations of the play. Since the play is written without line allocation to various characters and in fact it has no characters at all, the different interpretations of the script by the two directors, partly determined by circumstances and specifications of each particular space and time, highlighted the many and diverse points of view that the play includes thus affirming its kaleidoscopic form.
The show in London was typical of British theatre and followed two of its principal characteristics: love for the real world and literal approach to the text. Without changing any lines the director gave to the play the form of an actual dialogue among four persons who lived and talked within a real world created by the stage set. The only un-realistic thing on stage was the actors’ holding their scripts in hand (since they couldn’t obviously have learnt the lines) but many successful efforts were made to turn these paper pages into props. Big size was the main characteristic of the show in Athens: this was visualised in the dimensions of the stage and the number of actors and included the acting that required greater projection to the audience and the sound which was amplified. In a set full of references of a holiday beach and a concentration camp the text was heard loudly, urgently and distanced from the real world. One not so unimportant point was the fact that the actors’ ages were different: the Greek Art Theatre company members were at least two decades younger than the Royal Court’s cast.
These two completely different stage images and scenic representations led me to the essence of the two different interpretative approaches that each production used: the British one, in a calm and measured way tried to analyse what happens to the country, while the Greek one in a vigorous and decisive manner attempted to denounce the rotten financial system and provide a realistic hope for the future. My understanding was that the former believed in settlement and the latter announced a revolution, the first one was based on a more personalised view and perspective while the second addressed “us” as a collective and how “we” behave as a community. London called for ways to fix what’s wrong in our country and Athens excited us with the dream of finding a new country that lacks any wrong.
When one reads Andreas Flourakis’ play often needs to wonder whether the country we all want can revive through modern Greek reality or we have to look for it outside Greece, either in an existing land or in an imagined one. When one has watched both productions of I Want a Country so far, these two aforementioned options become very clear and it is left to us to decide which we align with according to our beliefs and our mentality. A thing to wish for would be to watch more new productions of the play by other directors, so that the various alternate interpretations hidden in it can become apparent thus progressively completing the ideal image of the country we all want.