Graeco-Polynesian culture in Paris?
Futa Helu was a man of considerable imaginative powers, but I'm not sure if he ever envisaged the confluence of Greek and Polynesian cultural motifs which Bill Direen recently witnessed in a Parisian theatre. Here's an e mail Bill sent me last week:
Perhaps your blog visitors might be interested in something that took me by surprise last night. I went to see a local production of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. By local, I mean a professional troupe in a theatre near where I am staying in Paris. The theatre has an English name, Sudden Theatre, but 99% of its works are in French. There was a lot of singing: I'd say about half the cast was hired for their singing skills. The key roles were filled by professional actors and the difference showed.
After the women established the situation and made clear their intentions to deprive their menfolk of sex unless they stop making war, the men arrive (half-masked) and proceeded to do a haka. It was a copy of the best known All Blacks haka, intended to display their warring frame of mind, their readiness to fight, and their inability to find peaceful solutions. It was not done disrespectfully, but it certainly took me by surprise. To further emphasise the unity and teamsmanship of their bellicose mind-space, not long after, the men formed a scrum, with all of the genital grabbing gestures rugby fans take for granted. The whole thing was more of a satire on rugby, than on the All Blacks or Maori culture...and yet....
So there you have it. Ted Jenner would have enjoyed the production, I suppose. It used a traditional setting, with polystyrene columns and a raised framed strusture centre stage, which led to more mysterious places. The robes and masks were Greek in flavour. Aristophanes' sense of mischievous fun prevailed. The sex-starved men eventually appeared with gigantic phallic attachments pushing out from under their robes... I wish I'd been able to see Lysistrata with Bill. I had the good fortune to be introduced to Aristophanes' crusty comedies by a seventh form Classical Studies teacher, and I instantly preferred them to the tragedies of Sophocles, let alone the endless lines of the Aeneid.
I was excited by the way Aristophanes threw chunks of aggressive political polemic into his plays, and I was fascinated by his ability to mock and at the same time honour Gods like Dionysus and heroes like Ulysses. When an old man wants to escape from the home where his family has imprisoned him in Aristophanes' The Wasps, he clings to the belly of a smelly donkey, and thereby reminds us of the way that Ulysses escaped from the lair of the Cyclops by clinging to the belly of a ram. Although the old man's escape is rather pathetic in comparison to Ulysses' heroic exploits, its very pathos somehow ennobles it, and also somehow humanises the legend of Ulysses. James Joyce must have learned a few lessons from The Wasps and Aristophanes' other plays.
The folks at Sudden Theatre might enjoy Marian Maguire's elegant collages, which often fuse Polynesian and Greek scenes, and which sometimes dwell on the martial qualities the two cultures share.