Monday, September 27, 2004


Phillip Constan, or "Hollywood" Phillip, as he is known to his closest associates, is not your average Greek-Australian. A consummate gentleman, whose deportment and demeanour transports one to the suave and debonair days when men wore dinner jackets and knew how to handle fish knives, he is also possessed of a profound knowledge of things theological, historical and allegorical.
He is also an actor of many years experience, having performed in various plays, not only in the Greek community but in the wider Australian sphere as well. He is certainly passionate about his work, treading the boards lightly, with a gait that one can only be jealous of but also with a sense of deep responsibility. For one of Phillip's major desires vis a vis the thespian arts, is to finally see the vast corpus (as opposed to corpse) of Greek theatre enter the mainstream. The ever poetic Phillip sees this as a metaphor for the wider acceptance of Greek culture as it is practiced in Australia, reinforcing a commitment to multiculturalism. To some extent, this is to be expected and, has already occurred. Theatre is inextricably linked with the rise of the Greek city-state, along with the belief in the teaching, healing and social utility functions of the performing arts.
Ancient Greek theatre especially is held in high esteem by the English-speaking world, which places it at least on par with Shakespeare. The gloomy but poignant tragedies of Euripides, where a fatal flaw in the character of the hero leads him to disaster regardless of his valiant attempts to avert it, or the side-splitting, bawdy comedies of Aristophanes strike just as sharp a note with a contemporary audience, as they did with the Athenians of hallowed antiquity.
Paradoxically enough however and for all the first generation's veneration of all things ancient, in our community ancient comedies have not enjoyed the same popularity as they do in Greece. Among the second and third generations, language difficulties often prevent a full enjoyment and appreciation of the timeless Greek theatrical classics. This is where Phillip steps in, to revive, make relevant and accessible to the wider community, the apogee of Greek theatre.
Phillip is currently starring in a radically new interpretation of Euripides' Bacchae written and directed by Malcolm Rock on behalf of Autonomous Production and director in training under the guidance of Simon Phillips of the Melbourne Theatre Company. In this interpretation, the Bacchae, arguably the most ambiguous Greek tragedy is taken to rock concert highs. Neither sex is safe when Greek god Dionysus – 400 BC's answer to David Bowie, Elvis and Eminem – rocks into Thebes leaving a horde of ecstatic female fans in his wake and the repressed King fuming in gender confusion. Dionysus' wild Bacchic groupies possess superhuman strength and go about recruiting others within the city. They dance and sing to electric guitar, beat drums and chant: Dionysus! Ho! Misogynistic King Pentheus, enraged that his own mother has joined the fanatical cult, sets out to capture the rebelling women and punish their propagandist leader. "Like Robbie Williams on a bender, Dionysus and his seductive reputation sweep across the city until vengeance-seeking god and hot-headed king come face-to-face," says director Malcolm Rock. "As with the best of tragedies, on this day one of the diametrically opposed leaders faces imminent downfall. The result is macabrely comic and true to Euripides' ironic sense of humour – let's just say it involves slaughter and a sexy red slip."
By indulging extremes, Bacchae sees order clash with chaos, fact with faith, male with female, East with West, and we come to learn the shocking price paid for freedom.
The play runs for approximately 1hr and half and is a one-act piece, without interval. It certainly is a dynamic energetic and powerful interpretation of the elements and issues observed in Euripides masterpiece. As Phillip Constan, who plays a role crucial to the play's development and outcome along with two other Greek Australian actors, Alex Tsitsopoulos and George Zach, states” "All the classic ingredients of a Greek drama are highlighted with the devotion and betrayal of god Dionysus and the fury of the Bacchae women expressed in the chorus of hissing rhythm stomping girls to the electrifying beat and sounds of a background rock band. Amongst all the havoc and frenzied energy of the chorus we see the heartbreaking plea of a mother in losing her child and king, we hear the prophetic warning of a wise seer, predicting the future catastrophe of the city of Thebes, and the final justice, punishment and reward of lives granted and lives taken from those who refuse honour and homage to the God of bread, wine and theatre, the elements of life itself, Dionysus as Euripides portrays him and as director Malcolm Rock along with a youthful and vibrant cast have interpreted this classic play in contribution to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. "
The unsung heroes of our community are those who dare to share their culture with the mainstream. They do so out of their passionate love for their cultural identity and with the resolve that that identity is universal and beneficial to all. Phillip Constan is an old hand at this. As a director of Historia Events, he has already played an important role in presenting Byzantium to a non-Greek public here in Melbourne. With his role in the Bacchae, this truly polished performer gives us his all, reaching the apogee of his technical proficiency, though not of his passion, causing us not only to rethink the messages of Euripides but to be energized and reinvigorated by them as well.
Baccahe is playing between September 28 to October 2, at 8pm every night at Gasworks Arts Park Theatre, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park, bookings 8412 8777. This is definitely a performance that you cannot afford to miss.
First published in NKEE on 27 September 2004