Studio 77 Amphitheatre, 77 Fairlie Tce, Wellington

20/02/2008 - 02/03/2008

Production Details

From the Father of Comedy, Aristophanes, Onstage Project presents WASPS, a classic comedy about judiciary hi-jinks and big stings.

Aristophanes is regarded one of the best and most indecent writers in the world. His eleven surviving works are a dramatic combination of the slapstick of The Three Stooges, the song and dance of a Broadway musical, the verbal wit of W. S. Gilbert, the exuberance of Mardi Gras, the parody of a Mel Brooks’ movie, the political satire of Doonesbury and the outrageous sexuality of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, wrapped up in the format of a Monty Python movie!

In ancient Greece these plays began as harvest festivals in honour of the god Dionysus, god not only of wine, but of ecstasy and transformation. These festivals were times when the hard work of the season was over, when people could relax and, under the sponsorship of the god. To continue with this festival tradition WASPS will be a panegyrist celebration with food, drink, dance and theatre performed in an outdoor amphitheatre environment.

"WASPS is a play where you can have good time," says director Toby Papazoglou. "A night full of laughs everyone can enjoy, cast and audience alike. A chance to revel in the playfully ridiculous side of theatre, while basking in the warmth of a summer evening!" 

Created by father and son team Tolis and Toby Papazoglou this is Onstage Projects first Summer Classic Season – an event Onstage hopes to make an annual celebration of great theatre.

Starring: Michael Gavriel, Robert Hickey, Jerome Leofa, Fraser McLeod, Gavin Rutherford, Asalemo Tofete, Robert Tripe and Zac Wineera 

20 February – 2 March, 8.30pm
The Amphitheatre at Studio 77 – 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn
Bookings: 04 389 8212 or wasps.onstage@gmail.com  
Cost: $25/20/15 

Michael Gavriel, Robert Hickey, Jerome Leofa, Fraser McLeod, Gavin Rutherford, Asalemo Tofete, Robert Tripe and Zac Wineera 

Relaxed, chatty and festive

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2008

At last, I get to the penultimate performance of Onstage Project’s Wasps, normally played outside in the Studio 77 amphitheatre but, for the second time only of 11 nights so far, relegated to the indoor space, where it works just fine.  

Directed by Toby Papazoglou, translated and designed by his father Tolis Papazoglou, this indicates a more symbiotic a father/son relationship than those depicted centuries ago by Ancient Greece’s master satirist Aristophanes. 

Wasps is his satirical jibe at the bloated jury system in Athens, or rather the self-serving practices of jurors and those who employed them, under the political leadership of Cleon, at the height – in 422BC – of his demagogic powers. Hence the lead characters: Procleon, a juror, and Anticleon, his upwardly mobile son.

In Athens at that time, otherwise unemployed – often elderly – men became jurors, hoping each day to be one of the 500 randomly picked from a pool of 3000-odd to sit in arbitrary judgment at any given trial. The rules of evidence and judicial process as we know them today were not part of the system then. (Indeed in his festival comedy for the previous year, The Clouds, Aristophanes lampooned – and misrepresented – intellectual pretentiousness and Socrates himself: the father of democracy and the legal system we know today.)

Procleon, energetically played as a devious and corrosive old fart by Robert Hickey, is addicted to the drama of it all and the sense of power he gets from dropping his ballot pebble into the guilty (they’re always guilty) bowl, not to mention the perks purloined from desperate supplicants, especially those with beautiful daughters.

Anticleon, a suave and languid Robert Tripe, has charged the household slaves Xanthias and Sosias – boyishly played with mischievous humour by Asalemo Tofete and Fraser McLeod – with keeping Procleon away from the courts.

The awfulness of the crime he wants to commit is suggested by the phallic barrier they erect to contain him: a tree trunk and two boulders (a standard Greek comedy gag).

The Chorus of jurors – characterized as wasps because they swarm, are easily angered and sting with their judgments – are Jerome Leota and Zack Wi-Neera, led by Gavin Rutherford’s relaxed and personable Carcinus. They are mystified at Procleon’s absence en route to the courts of so-called justice.  

Only when Anticleon disabuses his father of his delusion of grandeur, by proving he is paid less than the minimum wage for his services (the one point that resonates for today’s jury servers), does Procleon reconsider his vocation. To help wean him off it, Anticlean and the slaves set up a court at home, presenting a scene which (to borrow from the title of a homegrown opera premiering tonight at the International Festival of the Arts) may well be entitled The Trial of the Cheese-Gobbling Dog.

Despite the use of real dogs and puppies ("the kids"), this is the most structured and purposeful part of the play.

A long dissertation on Aristophanes, whose work is seen as "a shield against evil to keep the state clean" is given a buoyant delivery by Rutherford. Even so, this takes so long to make its point – that we should value poets with new ideas – that it is in danger of subverting itself. Poets, after all, are distillers of language.

The Wasps glorify themselves – "There is nothing manlier than an Athenian wasp; none so sharp-angered …" – and vent their anger at the drone draft-dodging wasps that have no stings. Anticleon gives Procleon a make-over with a costume purloined from Troy the Musical (such in-group humour flits through the text), and tried to train him to behave like a successful businessman: redolent of today’s reality TV shows.

But liberated from doing his daily duty, Procleon proves a libertine and a Flute Girl – Tofete in panto-dame drag – now wants to take him to court. He has simply exchanged one vice for another and cannot be reformed. One expects that irritating expert from Real Crime (TV One) to pop up and tell us Procleon is a sociopath who will never ever be capable of acting beyond self-interest.

The whole cast maintains such a relaxed and chatty style, so easily articulating the colloquially translated ancient text, that any sense of pointed satire dissipates. Given the comedies that followed the tragedies at each annual Greek Theatre Festival were eagerly devoured for their overt and covert political satire, always highly topical, the Wasps we experience now inevitably has a distant, ‘museum theatre’, feel.

But with Souvlaki on offer ($3 a skewer) beforehand and a dance we can all join in with to complete proceedings, the festive feel is well maintained. Strange, then, that the production is not part of Wellington’s Fringe yet scheduled to compete with it, and the International one.
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John Smythe March 3rd, 2008

Thanks Aaron - fixed.

Aaron Alexander March 3rd, 2008

"Directed by Toby Papazoglou, translated and designed by his father Toby Papazoglou, this indicates a more symbiotic a father/son relationship than those depicted centuries ago by Ancient Greece's master satirist Aristophanes. " So Toby is his own father now? Those Greeks! So symbiotic!

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Lively translation of classic satire

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Feb 2008

First performed in 422 BC, Wasps is Aristophanes’ satirical attack on the deteriorating state of Athenian society and its passion for litigation.

With a rambling plot about Anticleon (Robert Tripe) trying to stop his crusty old father, Procleon (Robert Hickey), from getting carried away with yet more power dispensing justice as a member of a jury, a mock trial of a dog, and the old man escaping the house, getting drunk at a party and returning with a flute girl, Wasps has lost its satirical sting, despite a pointed contemporary parallel being made when a brief stab is aimed at the United States over Iraq.

What we get in Toby Papazoglou’s production is a Marx Brother-like zaniness as father and son, two incompetent slaves (Asalemo Tofete, Fraser McLeod) and two members of the chorus (Jerome Leota, Gavin Rutherford) argue, fight and scale the vertiginous scaffolding setting, sit amongst the audience and run up and down the driveway beside the amphitheatre.

The comedy ambles along and is a bit of a hit and a miss but when it hits it’s great fun, and it is exuberantly performed by the entire cast. Gavin Rutherford provides some funny ad libs and asides when he is sitting amongst the audience, and Robert Hickey gets amusingly apoplectic as the jury-mad Athenian.

The play has been translated by Tolis Papazoglou, who also designed the set. It’s a lively translation (I particularly liked ‘a lady of negotiable affections’) and he mercifully shortens the pages-long speeches that are in my copy of a staid translation of the play.

The trial of the dog accused of stealing some Sicilian cheese is the highlight of the play, particularly as the accused wanted to lick his handler’s face. The old adage ‘never act with animals and children’ still applies but I would also add to it that one shouldn’t act with Asalemo Tofete when he’s in drag, but even he couldn’t upstage the two surprise visitors that were brought on at the end of the trial.

This enjoyable evening ends with a Greek dance with the audience joining in which is appropriate as the last speech in my old fashioned translation says: For never yet, I warrant, has an actor till today/Led out a chorus, dancing, at the end of the play.


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