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Culture

Greeks contribute rich history to political debate

media Plato's The Republic, in the Ceccano Garden at the Avignon Festival, July 2015 Siegfried Forster / RFI

Philosophy and theatre go hand-in-hand at the Avignon Festival. A tripartie reading/performance combines actors and amateurs in a revisited 21st century version of Plato.

About 2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher Plato advocated an elite composed of fair-minded people who owned no property, a sort of communal leadership. The argument may not be popular today.

Contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou's version of Plato’s The Republic invites whoever wants to spend an hour in a Provençal garden to listen, to join in, for free, and think about politics and government today. It's open to everyone, and even those who may not agree with Plato will likely think a little further.

The daily readings are performed by actor-students from the Cannes regional drama school and volunteers from Avignon, under the guidance of three French directors: Didier Galas, Valérie Dréville and Grégoire Ingold. It’s very simply presented with no costumes and no lighting, only sun and shade. The crickets in the trees trying to keep cool in the midday heat provide background sound. So the focus is clearly on the ideas in Plato/Badiou's philosophy.

"The main aim of the project is to get an assembly of people to think about justice and about how to build a new country," said Didier Galas, who has worked with Claude Régy and with artists in Japan. "Our aim is to be in the present   that's the way Alain Badiou writes and that's what we want also."

Although the readings are in Badiou’s original French, the delivery of the actors and non-actors gives an idea of the sparring rhythm of debate and argument among and in front of the audience who sit or stand around a stage in a semi-circle under the trees.

Laurent Robert is a 29-year-old student-actor from Reunion Island who plays Thrasymachus, an opponent of Socrates.

“It was interesting to play this role and show that Socrates had enemies because people think Socrates is like Jesus or something," he said. "We have to tell all the audience that Socrates was not accepted by everyone. I think it's interesting because when someone like Socrates has enemies and he wins all his battles, it just shows that our civilisation made the right choices.

"Whether Badiou's version for today, or the ancient Greek version, everyone should read this. All the problems they had are our problems today   for example, what is happening to the Greeks.”

Badiou says he wrote a modern-day version of Plato’s work in order to capture the interest of a new generation. The theatricality the philosopher discovered in the language of Plato’s The Republic can be heard until 24 July in the Ceccano Garden in Avignon, except on Mondays.

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