At the Printemps des Comédiens de Montpellier, ancient tragedies question the present

The old town of Montpellier, rich in numerous ruins, still bears the traces of its medieval history. But it is an even further leap in the past offered by the Spring theater festival of comedians”, which is held until June 25. Three contemporary directors revisit classics from Antiquity. What else do the tragic figures of Oedipus, Phaedra, and Prometheus have to tell us? Everything, respond in chorus the directors on the bill whose creations illuminate the festival.

Oedipus Kingafter the great Greek playwright Sophocles (-495; -406 BC), directed by Frenchman Eric Lacascade, opened on May 25 which is one of the French festivals most famous theatres.

Seven performances took place under the stars, in the courtyard of the Agora, the former Ursuline convent, at the gates of the old town. Dressed in an azure blue coat, Oedipus, legendary king of Thebes in ancient Greece -incarnated by a Christophe Grégoire inhabited by his character-, will not manage to escape his terrible fate: the oracle of Delphi predicted to his parents that if they had a son, he would kill his father and marry his mother.

The decor, a few blocks of marble placed here and there, situates the plot in the past. But the language, which has gone through 25 centuries, is surprisingly fluid, understandable at first glance, in this French version concocted by Eric Lacascade by drawing from no less than “25 translations”. Some of the terms chosen will have resonated with acuity in the ears of spectators gradually finding their way to theaters, after two years of health crisis.

Thus, the word “epidemic” arises, as if taken from a news bulletin, when Oedipus is charged, in order to save Thebes from a terrible plague, to discover and punish the murderer of his predecessor, King Laios, of whom he ignores that this is his real father and whose widow he married, Jocasta, without knowing that she was his own mother.

But Oedipus refuses to believe that he could be a parricide, “he doesn’t listen”, “he flees omens, oracles”explains Eric Lacascade to AFP. “He acts like a providential man, who governs the city in complete solitude. He is a man who sleeps, until he gouges out his eyes so that another vision, more interior, may occur”.

“Pieces from Antiquity work from deep roots: they question man about his relationship to destiny”

Eric Lacascade, director of the play “Oedipe”

“The pieces from Antiquity work from deep roots: they question man about his relationship to destiny, to the community he inhabits, to our customs, To the earth. What do we want to say to those who have power and govern us, to this public who needs to find themselves in an ancient and ritual act?adds the 63-year-old theater man, known in particular for his staging of Chekhov at the Avignon festival.

Absence of decor and accessories reduced to the strict minimum for Phaedrusafter Seneca (1st century AD), created a few days later by Georges Lavaudant and played in a small room at the Domaine d’O, a vast garden on the outskirts of the town where the heart of the festival beats.

No tricks needed: “At Sénèque, we are in the power of words, we see how the verb can carry the fury of the protagonists”explains the patron of the festival, Jean Varela.

The questions of Phèdre, of her son Hippolyte or of her husband, King Thésée, may seem miles away from modern preoccupations. But when the young man expresses his thirst for freedom and his love for nature, or when Thésée curses himself for having given in too quickly to crazy rumors and condemned his son, they send us back to the present time.

Prometheus, according to Aeschylus, the oldest of the Greek tragedians (6th-5th century BC), will close the “ancient route” of the festival on Friday and Saturday. This Prometheus “without rock and without chain”whose plot is set in “a dilapidated house, between a dodgy fridge and a cluttered sink”is directed by the Greek Nikos Karathanos.

“There is such power in the clash between Prometheus and the Gods that one feels like this house is going to explode, caught in a chaos of space-time”, promises Jean Varela. For its first two performances in France, the play will be performed in modern Greek with French surtitles.

The comedians’ spring program

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At the Printemps des Comédiens de Montpellier, ancient tragedies question the present

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