The beauty of Greek theatre is that the themes that epitomise it have traversed both time and space and even today, have a strong relevance to our modern society. Performed by Fusion Theatre, Heroes of the Past & Present tackles this through it’s continued focus on how the morals of Greek tragedies can be paralleled to what’s happening in the context of today. . A hero can be defined as someone who goes beyond themselves or exceeds supposed limitations for the benefit of others, of which this can perfectly describe the stories of the six characters from the play. Located at the Hellenic Museum, the play goes through six stories – three ancient and three modern, each representing a story from each of the ‘heroes’. The minimisation of the set, restricting themselves to three chairs and dark walls allow a specific focus on the three actors which gave the audience the power to concentrate on the performance as opposed to the mise en scene.
We begin with the story of the Persian messenger. The room is black and a light is focused on the actor that is seated in the middle. Actor, Andy McKinnon is slumped over and clutching a handful of what I thought to be electrical wires but are instead dog tags that are meant to feature the names of all those lost in the Persian war. He performs a monologue from Aeschylus’ The Persians which describes the loss of the Persian army with the purpose of giving names and faces to the enemy. But while this piece moved the Athenian audience when performed in Greece with the loss of the enemy, McKinnon lacked a variety of tone and the fact that he constantly yelled made his attempt to convey pathos become lost in the loudness and echoing of the room, and as a result detracted from the emotion of the piece.
The next story told was that of Malala Yousafzai who is played by Katrina Welsby. Welsby’s monologue was the same speech that Malala delivered at the United Nations. Unlike Malala’s actual speech, however, Welsby’s lacked the power that the original speech carries with it. Aylan Kurdi plays the little boy whose body washed up upon the Turkish shore is now the image that is associated with refugee children. What’s interesting in this scene is that the director has let us picture what this little boy may have been like in school if he were ever given the opportunity to have lived to make it to school. The teacher in the scene asks a series of maths questions with each answer ending with a fact about Syrian children. For instance, ‘what is nine minus five? Four…out of ten Syrian children don’t have a home.’ The scene ends with a very poignant question, that being ‘why must the children pay for our wars?’ The director creates this harrowing atmosphere because it is the children that will have to deal with the ramifications of war long after the generation who begun it are gone.
We are then taken back to Ancient Greece where the sacrifice of Iphigenia, a girl who is ‘more brave than most men’, takes place. It may be because I was still emotional from the previous scene but I found this scene to be beautiful in both the simplicity of the stage set up and the way Welsby performed as Iphigenia. The scene is short and the audience is quickly taken to a scene about a refugee reporter. The reporter walks and talks like a marionette which accompanies the two other actors playing with a marionette behind him. He tells the story of how 300 people died from a boat capsizing, but there is eerily playful music supporting this story which when combined with his puppet like movement show the difference between reporting a tragedy and surviving it.
The final piece is a modern adaptation of Ajax performed by Alex Litsoudis who plays a soldier who is suffering from PTSD. Once again, this piece focusses on children which was found equally touching and also distressing because we are once again forced to think about the innocent children who have been mindlessly killed. The play ends with the three actors gathering in a line, each creating a crescendo by chanting different things simultaneously which focus on the themes that each actor has looked at in their performance. McKinnon shouts ‘…We all have names, we are not just numbers’, while Welsby says ‘…Education is freedom, and fear is darkness…’ with Litsoudis intoning ‘…Let’s save the children from…us…’.
As the lights go down for the last time, I find myself trying not to cry because even though there were times at the start that I had issues with, overall the performance was both a meaningful and beautiful cry for help in which the director urges us to care more deeply about what is happening in our misplaced world. I commend the actors and the director, Stathis Grapsas for putting on such a heart-wrenching performance and, because it’s referred to as a ‘work in progress’, I can’t wait to see it again at some stage in the coming years.