Stage play creates dialogue between history and present life

The ‘Herostratus - Vu An Nguoi Dot Den’ (Herostratus – The Case of a Temple Burner) play, which was recently staged successfully by Le Ngoc Theatre at the Hanoi Opera House, not only chronicled a crime from 2,500 years ago but also created a dialogue between history and the present day as the artists touched upon many pressing issues of contemporary life.

A scene in the play (Photo courtesy of Le Ngoc Theatre)
A scene in the play (Photo courtesy of Le Ngoc Theatre)

The subject on Herostratus was previously featured in a play produced by the Vietnam Drama Theatre in 1980s and it gained much public interest. Adapted from the original script by Russian playwright Grigori Gorin, the latest Vietnamese version was directed by Le Quy Duong with a reduced length.

The play brought the audience back to Ancient Greece when a mad arsonist named Herostratus set the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, ablaze with an aspiration to leave his mark in history and die as known man. The crazy act has then gone down in literature and art arts as an action to gain fame at any cost.

Although the man’s misunderstanding of his glory are a challenge to history, justice and human values, it is worth noting that his behaviour was also praised by a few people at the same time.

The play’s story was told by a narrator who represents people in today’s life. During the play, the narrator also engaged in dialogues with characters and joined the interrogation and accusation, while at the same time both asking questions about and explaining the reasons behind Herostratus’s deviant behaviours.

From a crime in the past, the director wanted to shed light on some of the problems facing people in present-day life. The play raises questions of until when the bad and the evils stop to prevail as they have been the sources of sufferings of wars, natural disasters, oppression, manipulation of power, ethnic hatred, poverty and injustice.

It also delivers a warning that as long as society still tolerates and accept the way of thinking and acting of Herostratus, such forms of deviant behaviour will still occur and spread.

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The play brings together both veteran and young artists (Photo courtesy of Le Ngoc Theatre)

Director Le Quy Duong is also the stage designer for the play. He decided to set a simple space without too many props or sophisticated set up, but it still succeed in reviving the typical scenes in the society of the ancient Greece.

Only by using square, grey blocks of stones, he recreated different scenes, from splendid Temple of Artemis and the palace of Ephesus City to the court, the prison, and the dark detention room. He also took advantage of lighting effects and music to stir emotions to the audience.

‘Herostratus - Vu An Nguoi Dot Den’ marked the comeback of Meritorious Artist Le Chuc, former Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Stage Artists Association, after 35 years of absence from the stage. Playing the role of the narrator, Chut left deep impressions on the audience by conveying the ideological message of the play through lines which seemed to be dry in an attracting and convincing manner.

The play also brought together other veteran artists, including actor Van Hai and People’s Artists Le Ngoc, Tien Dung and Thuy Ngan as well as young talented faces from Le Ngoc Theatre such as Anh Tuan and Quang Tu.

Staged at a time when the performing art has been interrupted due to COVID-19, ‘Herostratus - Vu An Nguoi Dot Den’ demonstrates the efforts and determination of stage artists to overcome the challenging difficulties in bringing audiences back.