A classic work brought to life
Do classics still have a place in modern entertainment? The Malta Classics Association certainly think they do. Jo Caruana chats to Keith Borg, director of the upcoming Ovidius in Exsilio, to discover why.
There’s no denying quite how special the classics are. Anything that can live on for as long as they have and still pull audiences is bound to hold some magical key to the way we think and like to be entertained.
With that in mind, the upcoming play Ovidius in Exsilio is set to be both entertaining and educational, as it introduces the life of classic poet Ovid, who wrote texts including Metamorphoses and Fasti.
The production is being staged by the Malta Classics Association (MCA) as part of the Evenings on Campus (EoC) programme. The association aims to promote knowledge of the classics across all its branches and to the widest audience possible.
“That includes both academics and the public,” explains Keith Borg, who is directing the show. “The MCA set up an exhibition with Monika Beisner’s paintings, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the EoC. This, in turn, sparked the idea of staging a play in conjunction with the exhibition.”
To this end, the MCA’s Michael Zammit worked on translations of the stories from Metamorphoses and Tristia while George Peresso developed the script.
“Strangely enough, the day before I received their offer I had watched a documentary on Ovid’s banishment from Rome. Omens apart, the offer was too tempting to decline, as I have always been fascinated by life back then.”
The story follows Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, who knew that stability was the key to the empire’s expansion under his reign.
Ovid’s literature, particularly the Amores and the Ars Amatoria, undermined this stability, leaving Augustus no other option than to banish the prolific poet for life to Tomis. The play focuses on Ovid’s time in exile.
“Appalled by the barbaric environment, teaching Latin to the locals becomes his raison d’être in Tomis, while yearning for Augustus’ pardon,” Borg says of the story. “It’s a very moving piece and our target audience includes the young and the young at heart. We really do want to show people how captivating the world of the classics can be.”
The MCA clearly believes that the classics have a place in modern performance art and are thrilled to be bringing this particular production to EoC, which has become a staple of the University’s cultural calendar.
“The classics probe the essence of human nature by shedding light over the passions, the emotions and the dreams that make humans, presumably, the most interesting creature on earth.”
The original play brings together an excellent cast of newcomers and experienced actors, which includes Anthony Ellul, Simone De Battista, Mark Schembri, Claudio Carta, Kurt Pawley and Chris Scicluna.
Speaking about his role as Ovid, Ellul explains the trials involved. “There’s a lot that goes into playing a man who was revered both during and after his time as one of the greatest Roman poets. The script is challenging and the style very poetic, so I am excited by the challenge of it all – although Ovid’s lines make up more than half of the script, so I have certainly got my hands full.
“The script has its dark moments, but also ones of light humour and entertainment, so it will definitely have wide appeal,” he adds.
Ovidius in Exsilio will be held on Thursday and Friday at the Atriju Vassalli, University of Malta, at 9 p.m. For more information about the production visit the Facebook pages of the Malta Classics Association, Mediteatru and EoC.