INTERVIEW: Greek director Vicky Mastrogianni revisits Sophocles' timeless symbols through genderless Antigone

Ati Metwaly , Saturday 18 Dec 2021

Greek director Vicky Mastrogianni talks to Ahram Online about Antigone, a Hubris, the performance by Group 7, staged as part of the ongoing 28th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET, 14-19 December).


Since its premiere in Athens in 2019, Antigone, a Hubris has been staged a few times and travelled to Stockholm Fringe Festival, a six-day multidisciplinary arts festival presenting innovative works by international artists. 

With the pandemic suspending physical performances, the play has also participated in a number of theatre festivals online. 

The performance of Antigone, a Hubris in the CIFET's international competition is the play's first performance outside Europe.

Ahram Online (AO): What is the reason behind your choice of the iconic classical text from the literary reservoir of ancient Greece?

Vicky Mastrogianni (VM): This is the first time that I work with a classical text. We are interested in our roots. Living in Athens, you have different roots than Greek people from Peloponnese or those of Crete. It is this material that allows us to examine our cultural belonging. Do we come from East, West, North or South? Or maybe a little bit from all of them.

AO: How do you link this classical Greek text with today's theatre and its audiences?

VM: Through Antigone, a Hubris, we raise questions about our difficult times. This does not relate to the past two years marked by the pandemic, though the play premiered in 2019 in Athens, prior to Covid-19 crisis. Sophocles' Antigone is about power and resistance. Throughout the centuries and all the way to modernity, we can see how resistance aimed at changing the world, at times succeeding, at others not so much.

AO: Among the themes we can draw from Sophocles' text is that of democracy. How do you use theatre to present this concept over 2,500 years later?

VM: We don't have a definite answer to that. We are just wondering and shedding light on the theme and its applicability in today's world. There are many undertones in Antigone, a Hubris with theatre allowing us to use different language in our research for truth and answers. Starting from the ancient times, Greece has been at the cultural crossroads and as people – rulers, tradesmen, communities -- moved from all corners of the world, they were always passing through Greece. In this context, our country has always been a mixture of cultures and histories of nations. Today, Greece has changed; it doesn't accept immigrants, for instance. But aren't we all immigrants? My ancestors are; our ancestors are.

AO: How do you view Antigone's role in the wave of opposition against the system? What do you draw from her as a feminine character that represented resilience?

VM: In our play, we do not speak in terms of gender. Sophocles' text does not have to be understood in terms of division between men and women. I see his characters as gender-less symbols.

AO: Yet you put three women on stage. Three actors obviously link Antigone, a Hubris to the number of actors (three only) who stood on stage at times of Sophocles. However, those three actors were always men who portrayed all the roles, those of men and women. What lies behind your choice of three women?

VM: We were inspired by the old tradition but approached it with a twist which allowed us to break the gender component. On the other hand however, it is giving us a different approach to acting. When men play women's roles, their dynamics are completely different to women portraying men. By removing the gender from the equation, we are also experimenting with the depths of this concept while challenging the older convictions of theatre.

AO: Is it correct to say that your Antigone has no gender?

VM: As mentioned earlier, I look at her as a symbol. Take Euripides' Medea for instance. She is a woman who murders her two sons, as well as Creon and his daughter. Though there are women murderers, in broader historical terms our cultures usually associate the act of killing with men. As such, Medea is a symbolic character carrying both genders or is rather gender-less, just like Antigone. Our cultures are filled with symbols, they exist since the ancient times and continue to play an important role in our lives until date. They never die.

AO: What is your treatement of the ancient text written in a poetic language?

VM: I have re-translated Sophocles' text from ancient Greek to modern language. I decided to keep it very colloquial, removing the poetic component of the language. This way, while respecting the Sophocles' dramaturgy, the text has become closer to contemporary audience. The spectators can draw from the text its essence, the themes and ideas, without being subjected to old language or poetic vocabulary. Also, we are not poets, we are the theatre-makers of today, so we use a language that everyone can understand. Theatre is not based on recitation of text only; theatre is a physical experience. So we found it interesting to see how the performance can embrace the text in a different way.

AO: Tell us more about the projections and music.

VM: We use a lot of modern tools; the characters are placed in an economic centre and at times are on video calls. It is one of the ways of placing the ancient text within our cultural understanding of the world and theatre. The play includes original music composed by Marios Tsagaris who incorporates the well-known songs which serve as symbols.

AO: What is your troupe's dynamics in theatre?

VM: Founded in 2003, Group 7's name refers to our first play and because seven is a lucky number. We have a set of four or five actors dedicated to the troupe. Other than that, we often change the actors, bring new ones for specific plays, etc. We avoid creating performances with the same set of actors to avoid the sense of family, which though can be beautiful in theatre, it gives different dynamics to work. Also this time I directed the show, another time someone else might do so and I become an actress on the stage. I am not the troupe's manager per se. We are three people in charge.

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