Athens – On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the National Theatre staged an unusual event at Omonoia, Athens’s central square joining worldwide tributes to the Bard of Avon.
Omonoia (meaning “concord” in Greek) square, a some-time pride of Athens, had been for the past 10 years the ill-fated symbol of the city’s decadence.
In the middle of the square, a metal container, especially designed and decorated for that purpose was set up not carrying merchandise, but a condensed capsule of Shakespeare’s poetic universe.
Inside “Shakespeare’s Room’’, 40 actors brought to life excerpts from 13 of his most famous plays translated in Greek.
A vast variety of celebrations that honoured the Shakespearean legacy took place across the globe, with the leading example of London and New York.
In Athens, the spectators were asked to obtain their free-admission tickets one hour in advance from the tent that was set up a few metres away from the container.
While the “pocket” performances lasted no more than half an hour each.
Effie Theodorou, the Director of this venture, took up the mission of coordinating and directing this event heartily and managed to accomplish it in only 15 days.
Her ambition is that “Shakespeare’s Room’’ is only the beginning.
“For 12 hours, we installed in Omonoia the district of Athens where the signs of the Greek crisis are the most visible, this container in which theatre lives.
“It was a marvelous idea and I believe we should implement it on a permanent basis.
“I would like to see this container stay here, as a living theatrical cell of the city, where the theatre will support the city and its citizens with the light and the ideas of its poets,” Theodorou said.
Stathis Livathinos, the artistic Director of the National Theatre, embraced the original idea of theatrologist and theatre critic, Louisa Arkoumanea, and explained the rationale behind the special event.
An overwhelming number of actors and actresses of the National theatre’s cast responded enthusiastically and en masse to Livathinos’s invitation, as none of this would be possible without their voluntary work.
According to Livathinos, this is a very good opportunity for the National Theatre to inspire and be inspired by William Shakespeare.
“That is why we, the actors of the National theatre, are reading small extracts from Shakespeare’s plays here at the centre of Athens, and so many people are so enthusiastic about it. It’s a beautiful day.”
They were all eager to experience this unusual and exhilarating theatrical reading.
They entered the container in duets, trios or even groups of five, and took their place at the big table right next to their audience, away from the safety distance the stage usually provides.
Ektoras Liatsos, a young actor of the troupe, participated in a scene from Love’s Labour’s Lost.
He said what it was like to interpret Shakespeare in a container.
“It was a completely different experience from what the theatrical stage offers you.
“People were really close to us and they watched us read from the text. So it was nice, they came closer to the way we worked and they had a better understanding of our work,’’ Liatsos said.
When asked what made him come to Omonoia and participate in this venture voluntarily, Liatsos said; “I thought that being in a container in one of Athens’ main squares and bringing to life texts like these for everyone to hear was very challenging.”
It was the first time most people had the chance to find themselves in a confined space while the very essence of the theatrical act played out right next to them.
Omonoia is a place most Athenians only pass by, in spite its convenient location at the centre of the historical place and the architectural gems that surrounded it.
The audience was a bizarre combination of puzzled passers-by, loyal theatre-lovers, hesitant immigrants and trendy youth.
Most of them entered the container in disbelief, but in the end, all of them had nothing but exciting comments to make.
“I had never heard of something like this, watching a play not in a theatre, but in a metallic box is something that sounded interesting,” Manos Galanakis, a student who watched a scene from Othello.
“It was very ambient in there, because you were so close to the actors. In fact, it was like you also had a role in the play, like you were one of them.
“You could feel their energy, their aura, every vibration of their voice, because in the dark, your senses get sharper. It was a wonderful thing,” he said.
Indeed, inside “Shakespeare’s Room”, the atmosphere was electric. The air was saturated with emotion, as the words hit the metal walls with unusual force.
The audience almost held their breath and could feel every subtle nuance of the voice and temper of the Shakespearean heroes.
Is this iconic square of Athens finally going to regain its status of glory through such initiatives? It remains to be seen. (Xinhua/NAN)