This review was originally written for The Public Review.
For a short play running 85 minutes, Socrates and his Clouds is surprisingly dense yet light-hearted. This seriocomic drama is inspired by Aristophanes’ Cloud and transfers the characters and structure from its inspiration but changes themes, lines and subject matter, and turns it into a new play. Playwright William Lyons sets the play in ancient Greece, where a father wants his gambling and alcohol-addicted son to better himself by enrolling in Socrates’ school to learn debate and oratory. Although the son manages to attend the school, it does not turn out the way the father had envisaged.
The subject of morality is scattered across the performance with broad references and little digs at the current financial crisis in Greece and Cyprus. It questions the purpose of teaching and the pitfalls of different teaching methods. This point is beautifully summarised by the metaphor of whether a teacher should stuff a bird; teach a caged bird to sing; or teach a fledgling to fly. There is an ironically self-referential debate on the merit of reason and persuasion which is set out in a succinct and cogent manner easily digestible for a theatre audience.
This debate then morphs into a commentary about democracy and society and the themes keep delving deeper. Despite the serious subject matter, the play is sugar-coated by light and comic dialogue with silent movie physical comedy complete with comical sound effects. It is also intersperses cheerful chorus scenes which set out and summarise the play in music, as in a traditional Greek play. The comedy may be a little overplayed but without it, the play could be too dry.
The direction by Melina Theocharidou juggles the different elements well. There are little touches such as dressing up the father like Mario the Plumber with emphasis on his video-game like naivete and perhaps his Mario-like misfortune. There are great performances from Alexander Andreou playing Socrates with wisdom and lightheartedness and made a great entrance. Paul Hutton also excels in playing Strepsiades, the buffoon-like father but is betrayed by his full set of hair which nullifies the balding jokes.
This is a very accomplished and compact play filled with references from the ancient Greek tradition yet with a very modern outlook. It is a great, none-too-heavy way to remind us there is a lot more to Greece than what features in the news.