The National Theatre of Greece has produced a sprawling play based on the trilogy of novels by M. Karagatzis called The Kodjabashis of Castropyrgos. It is a complex work set during The Greek War of Independence (1821 – 1830) that presents the story of a Greek traitor and hero, strives to portray the dark side of some of the heroes of the revolution and touches on reality and dreams. That is a great canvas to paint on but there is more to it than that.
The events of the play are a re-enactment. A theatrical performance is watched from a box by King Othon (Kostas Vasardanis) and Queen Amalia (Xanthi Georgiou) in 1864. Othon was recently deposed as the king of Greece and he is seeing a part of history in which he played no part but he may have heard stories about the events. Othon plays the piano as well as chatting with his wife. The intention of Thanasis Triaridis who adapted the novels for the theatre may have been to give the play Brechtian separation from the illusion of realistic representation.
The main character is Michalos Rousis (Giorgos Christodoulou), a kodjabashis who is a traitor to the Greek cause but also manages to become a hero. As a kodjabashis he was a well-off landowner by serving the Turkish occupiers and collecting taxes from the Greeks. When the revolution broke out, he was against it.
A Turk saved his life by telling him to act more like like a Turk by buying a slave. The slave Vaggelio (Leoni Xerovasila) is a young girl with whom he falls in love. He marries Evagelia (Vicky Katsika), Rousis is a man of the flesh and we witness several scenes of vigorous sex. Director Dimitris Tarloou is not shy.
The slave saved his life later by sleeping with another man. Rousis changes sides and fights for the Greeks. At the end of the play Rousis wants to revert to being a Turk for fear that the Greeks will lose the revolution. A French officer in the Egyptian-Turkish army saves his life again by informing him that Greece’s allies have destroyed the Egyptian fleet thus guaranteeing its independence.
Rousis’ treachery is complete but the hedonistic and amoral man but, as noted, takes part in a major battle of the revolution and becomes a dedicated killer. He is declared a hero.
Karagatsis wants us to see the dark side of people. We meet Papaflessas, a heroic priest in Greek history, but a liar, a thief and a womanizer according to Karagatzis. Promitheas Aliferopoulos gives a powerful performance as the charlatan priest who stages his own death to enhance his heroic status.
The set by Thalia Melissa is impressive. There is a projection of the Castropyrgos castle when appropriate and some ramparts for the battle scene. The players wear colourful period costumes.
Giorgos Christodoulou gives an impressive performance as the young, virile, self-possessed and amoral Michalos He belongs to a class of Greeks who collaborated with the conquerors, abused their fellow countrymen and became rich and powerful.
Vicky Katsika as Michalos’s wife Evagelia is beautiful, patient and strong. She betrays him with a French officer in the enemy Egyptian forces as soon as she learns that her husband is dead. But he is not and he comes home while she is having sex with the Frenchman.
As part of the Brechtian Epic Theatre approach, there is a live band on the stage that frequently plays background music during the dialogue.
Tarloou does a fine job directing a story with many twists and turns. One of the problems for us watching a screening rather than a live performance in a theatre is that the play is too big for the small screen. The performance looked squished and the microphones on actors’ faces did not help. It may look and feel a lot better in the theatre where we can watch the whole stage without waiting for a camera angle to direct us.
THE KODJABASHIS OF CASTROPYRGOS, adapted from the novels of M. Karagatsis by Thanasis Triaridis, was streamed by the National Theatre of Greece from the Marika Kotopouli Stage of the Rex Theatre, Athens, on March 20, 2021. For more information visit: www.n-t.gr/