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Aeschylus’ The Persians, Live from Epidaurus, Powerful Drama Online

ATHENS – For the first time ever, an ancient Greek drama performance was streamed live from the ancient theater of Epidaurus on July 25. The Persians by Aeschylus was presented by the National Theatre of Greece, commemorating the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Salamis, and offering a powerful drama online as countries around the world are still exploring ways to restart theater in the COVID era.

As most festivals across Europe have been unfortunately canceled this year, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival is still taking place, albeit in a condensed form, titled Fragment, adhering to the strictest safety measures. Within the framework of this year’s Festival, the National Theatre of Greece with the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports presented Aeschylus’ drama to a global audience.

Dimitris Lignadis, Director of The Persians and Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Greece gave the welcoming remarks and noted, “Amidst an enforced lockdown, art, and the theater once more emerged as vital human needs, as a place of refuge. The National Theatre of Greece, with the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, invites the entire planet to the most beautiful theater in the world, at Ancient Epidaurus, to share and participate – even if only online – in our production of The Persians; in a ritual that takes us back to the past, reminding us of the essence and the core of existence, which is at the same time a bridge between people and cultures. Culture belongs to all humanity and humanity has the right to unity, even when conditions do not allow it.”

The play was streamed live in partnership with Google Greece and was available worldwide except Greece, exclusively through the YouTube platform, free of charge, although donations were welcomed. All proceeds will benefit the National Theatre and Greek actors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Google hosted the live streaming and provided technical support as well as major free promotion across YouTube regarding the live streaming event.

The play was performed in Greek with English subtitles. Set in Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, the play opens with a chorus of old men of Susa, who are soon joined by the Queen Mother, Atossa, played by the renowned Lydia Koniordou, as they await news of her son King Xerxes' expedition against the Greeks.

Aeschylus had fought in the Persian Wars, at the Battle of Marathon and later at the Battle of Salamis which features prominently in The Persians. From the point of view of the defeated Persians, the play features a level of empathy that may seem quite modern, but is as timeless as the constancy of human nature. The talented cast, including Koniordou as Queen Atossa, the widowed mother of Xerxes, powerfully delivered this ancient text. It should be noted that Koniordou directed and starred in the 2006 National Theatre of Greece production which was performed at City Center in New York.

The Chorus, Nikos Karathanos as the ghost of Darius, Argyris Xafis as Xerxes, and Argyris Pandazaras as the messenger also gave an impressive performance while the costumes by Eva Nathena added to the intensity of the drama.

The live stream received positive reviews from the international press, including the New York Times and The Guardian, which noted that “the play would have reminded its original Athenian audience that even a mighty power could be brought low by excessive confidence. No wonder it seems relevant for 2020.”

More information about the National Theatre of Greece is available online:  https://www.n-t.gr/en/.

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