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UCL presents Dyskolos: Kindness Amidst Cruelty

The green idyll a resplendent astro-turf and we begin in Attica…. UCL’s Classical Drama Society takes on Menander’s comedy in this rendering of Dyskolos, (translated as The Grouch, The Misanthrope). Knemon, ‘the grouch’ (Dominic Hauschild), a misanthropic farmer in high white slacks more Larry David than anything from the fourth century BC, so too, the pipes of Pan (the peerless David Gayle, who also doubles as Gorgias) replaced with a flute. The action of the play is set in motion when young Sostratos (Florent Simon) falls in love with a peasant girl, Knemon’s daughter he glimpses (Marjolein Heemskerk), pretending to be an erstwhile farmer- really a city boy who agonises holding a shovel- in order to impress the grouch.

After Knemon accidentally falls down his own well, he sees the error of his ways and grants all his property to Gorgias, telling him also to take his daughter and find a husband for her. Gorgias introduces Sostratos to him, bestowing him indifferent approval (this means prodding and bodily inspection). Kallippides (Loïc Frémond), his father (again, more Mr Burns or the ‘Monopoly man’ totem) initially balks at taking two paupers into the family. But Sostratos scolds his father, pointing out that wealth is inherently capricious therefore, he should not begrudge sharing wealth with others; money can’t be held forever, and luck will simply assign that wealth to someone else someday, perhaps to someone less deserving.

Sostratos explains that what goes around comes around: by acting nobly now, Kallippides may himself—in a future moment of need—benefit from someone else’s kindness.  Implicitly, this is grounded in a repetition with a difference when, earlier in the story when Sostratos had benefited from Gorgias’ magnanimity, and Knemon had benefited from Sostratos’ kindness. This sounds not unlike the familiar arc for an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, incidentally. The production downplays this theme in favour of laughs, slapstick, and, comic torture with modern kitchen utensils, mostly of Knemon by a mustachioed Sikon (Elena Iotti), and Getas (Charlotte Finchman) with which the show closes. This is not to say that the play can’t have its meze and eat it- it balances both deftly- happy taking aim at its anachronism, its historicity (‘the following seven lines are mutilated and their meaning disputed’, Gayle’s break is surprisingly handed what is, perhaps, one of biggest laughs of the night) and with the audience, everyone involved in UCL Classical Drama are in every way definitely worth watching.

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Nicholas Pan