ROMANS USED to vomit during banquets plenty of food to be able to eat for a long period of time; some unlucky men were trained to fight against each other – sometimes against lions – to entertain the people and please the Emperor of the time; even they used to ‘brush’ their teeth with pee. However, among this brutality the Roman civilization had a rich culture with very cultivated people. They created a lot of masterpieces in all branches of art and built magnificent buildings that we still enjoy today.
That is the case of Merida (Extremadura, Spain), the capital of what was once an important Roman province where if you dig with a shovel deep in the ground, you will most likely find some Roman ruins. The Emperor Augustus founded it for the retirement of veterans of the legions – Gladiator was from Merida -, a time when, according to old stories, a monkey could cross from Seville to Galicia without getting off the trees.
Here the International Festival of Classical Theatre takes place every summer since 1933. The Roman theatre of Merida is extraordinarily well conserved; its decadency came with the spread of Christianity until it was completely buried revealing just seven peaks. After the Muslim occupation, these seven peaks were called ‘The seven chairs’ and the legends attributed for decades by mistake those imaginary chairs to the seven Muslim kings that reined over the country.
However, our civilization doesn’t differ that much from the past. We still vomit for several reasons, we still fight against each other and brush our teeth – fortunately the toothpaste has been invented-. But we also still enjoy those magic places that hold something special in it, located in a mystical position and surrounded by art, as it is this Roman theatre.
Miguel de Unamuno stated that “all that was done to last forever again be restored, in one or another way”. The main stage of this theatre has become a very prestigious scenic spot for Spanish players while retaining its original function. Because when you are there you don’t feel in a theatre, you pass to somewhere else. Many actors agree, as Concha Velasco declared, that is “an absolutely overwhelming experience”.
A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. They used to be servants or slaves during the Roman Empire. Terence, a classic Roman author, wrote a comedy with this tittle in 161 BC. More than 2.000 years ago this play has made the grandstand of the biggest Roman theatre in Spain laugh out loud once again.
A free Spanish version of this ancient Rom-Com – with a taste of Baroque style and some Shakespeare connotations – was up to an audience (around 3.000 people) that clapped incessantly, and was sold out everyday. No play starts until late at night. The moonlight is an important element for illuminating the stage, as it used to be. When everything is dark enough, the orchestra starts playing within a perfect acoustic and the actors come down through the people to the stage.
Love and hate are intertwined in three stories, in which all the actors sing and dance. Homosexuality takes part in the story naturally and winks to the supremacy of women are made constantly. It would be considered a very modern play if it had not been written two millenniums ago.
Eunuch is one of the ten plays included in the programme of the Festival. An opera by Strauss, a flamenco ballet or plays by Homer, Aristophanes or Shakespeare have being represented during the summer. The ticket prices range between 12 and 39 euros. In addition, other buildings that are part of the archaeological set of Merida can be visited, such as the amphitheatre, the Roman circus, several aqueducts, temples, arches, bridges and much more. This is, moreover, seasoned with a delicious cuisine and exquisite wines from the region. For all this, a night at the Roman theatre in Merida is not another summer night.
Words by Ana Escaso.
Photo credit: Festival Internacional Teatro Clasico de Merida.