Based somewhere in Greece among three cartoon-like clouds, we are introduced to Strepsiades: father to a sod of a son, Phidippides, who gambles their limited funds away with no thought to the consequences. Desperate to change little Phiddy’s path in life, Streps meekly suggests his son attends Socrates’ Academy; a school which offers free education to those who enter its doors. Phiddy, of course, refuses to go. However, the boy’s attitude changes when his father forbids him to do so upon learning more about Socrates and his institution. Eager to continually disobey his father, Phiddy bounds off into the academic forest of fruits in a drunken stupor. Intoxicated several shades of disorderly, Phiddy misinterprets a debate centred on Reason and Persuasion and their influence on social morality, and takes the content as a misguided cue to act like even more of a bast… brute. Subsequently, the awful offspring beats up his father and threatens a creditor. Poor old Streps blames Socrates and his school for his son’s heightened appreciation of violence and sets off to burn the academy.
Described as a “serio-comic drama”, William Lyons’s bizarre take on Aristophanes’ Clouds is neither particularly dramatic, serious, nor comic. There is an element of depth in the writing, which for the most part is pretty peppy and riddled with philosophical undertones, but the characters are cardboard cut-outs and the storyline is weak, which means the play as a whole doesn’t work. I would also have to disagree with its description as a “hearty comedy” – fart jokes, sloppy slap-stick and silly throw-away quips just aren’t my bag.
The central cast members are strong. Paul Hudson’s Strepsiades is convincingly meek and mild, and I was torn between wanting to cuddle him and wanting to slap him for being so waspish and weak. Jack Montgomery is applaudingly brat-like as the tiresome tyke, Phidippides. Alexander Andreou oozes stage presence and is perfectly cast as larger-than-life Socrates, and contributes a much-needed boost of energy.
However, none of the characters are multi-dimensional or believable. This may be intentional in light of the Aristophanic style Lyons chooses to adopt, but this approach stamps out any potential for successfully conveying the deeper meaning of the play. The characters mechanically bounce off one another, but Melina Theocharidou’s direction allows for limited organic synergy between them. Despite the slow pace and fragmented energy, the cast do what they can to keep the action moving, but the painfully unhurried scene changes eradicate their efforts and one is left checking one’s watch.
The singing and dancing Chorus interject the action in typical Greek style. The Hocus-Pocus-esque trio of street buskers break up the action to comment and forewarn; however, I found their presence rather irritating. For a start, one member of the chorus is a much stronger singer than the others, which slightly ruins the point of an ensemble. Also, their choreography, despite being slick and well rehearsed, is also somewhat soporifically simple and repetitive.
Socrates and his Clouds offers an educated insight into the questions surrounding morality, ethics, education and economics, but the style does not successively convey these more serious aspects.