ATHENS – Don Quixote, one of the most influential novels of all time, will take to the stage in Athens, the birthplace of western classical theater, before a Greek audience who, in a context of post-recession hardship, identify with the 17th-century narrative of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes.
One of the founding examples of modern literature, Don Quixote follows adventures of Alonso Quixano, a nobleman of questionable sanity who becomes so obsessed with romance novels that he decides to pick up sticks, become a knight and travel the arid lands of Castilla la Mancha under his pseudonym Don Quixote with his squire, a simple farmer called Sancho Panza.
“I think that this great work has stood the test of time because it discusses something that is part of all of us. Everyone would want to be Don Quixote, but in reality, most of us are Sanchos,” Achilleas Anagnostou, the actor taking on the role of the Castilian knight errant told EFE in an interview.
The play has been adapted by the Thesis Theater Company and is directed by Taxiarchis Janos, whose vision was to set out a humble production with a minimalistic mise en scene.
The simplicity of the set means the score, which is of clear Hispanic influence, takes on an important role in the plat. Its omnipresence adds drama and suspense to the dangerous, albeit absurd, adventures of Quixote and Sancho.
Despite the severe financial crises Greece has endured, Greeks have continued to flock to theaters with visitor numbers swelling year on year.
The birthplace of the art-form as we know it, Athens has seen a 153 percent rise in the number of theaters cropping up in the city between 2000 and 2014.
In fact, it seems the economic crisis has if anything has boosted the industry; 70 percent of active theaters in 2014 opened after the global financial crisis in 2008, which precipitated severe economic hardship and huge unemployment rates, especially among Greek youth.
Yet, in that year alone, some 2.5 million spectators went to see some 7,000 plays, according to data compiled in 2016 by the Greek statistics agency Elsat.
“In Athens people still got to the theater, right now there are hundreds of plays on show in the city. It is a good place to be an actor although there is a lot of competition and for that reason sometimes it is difficult to get by,” Anagnostou continued.
For this reason, Anagnostou suggests that to be an actor in the Hellenic capital is a Quixotesque feat and, although it is possible, “it is a difficult dream to conquer here.”
“I was rather intimidated by the role of Don Quixote but we broached the notion of quixotism as a philosophy, the essence of the novel and the notion that we have to be strong enough to dream big and never give up, even when reality tells us otherwise,” the actor added in reference to how the theater company decided to focus on the main moral of the Cervantes novel rather than giving a verbatim representation.
The Greek actor harnessed the distance that separated him from La Mancha by experimenting with new art-forms and ways to express himself such as taking Flamenco classes which informed the way Anagnostou moved across the stage.
Although the performance was a new challenge for the actor, the theater company was familiar with the work after it took part in the “Almagro Off” in 2016 – an event that is part of the International Festival of Classical Theater program which takes place every year in the medieval town of Almagro, in central Spain – where they performed William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“When we went to Almagro everything was full of Quixote, and the area still paints a vivid picture of where the novel unfolds. We joked among ourselves: imagine if there were a theater festival in Greece and foreigners came to perform a tragedy.” Anagnostou concluded.
And this is exactly what the Greek company hopes to do.
Thesis aims to return to the Castilian stages of Almagro for the forthcoming edition of the festival with their Hellenic Quixote.
The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha was first published in 1605.
The first theatrical adaptation of the novel featuring the eccentric knight and his faithful Sancho was in London, England, in 1611.
Miguel de Cervantes died aged 68 in Madrid in 1616.