Growing up with fractured memories from a childhood spent in two places, a young man travels back to Greece from Australia to visit his family. His journey becomes a quest as he searches for a place to call home. During his stay at his family’s village he rediscovers his love of chickens, meets his estranged and bitter uncle, avoids being cursed by the Mati (the evil eye), uncovers some dark family secrets, and realises what it means to be a foreigner in your own home. “Alright then, I’ll go home…MY home…where I am also foreign.”
Sometimes, just sometimes, you are fortunate enough to see a theatre show that leaves you changed at the end of it. Thomas Papathanassiou’s one man show, Looming the Memory, did just that to me, twice. The sort of show that Papathanassiou has created is not an easy one to get right either. It’s a memoir piece; a dramatic narrative about a man whose heart is in two places; Australia, where his parents migrated to in the 70s, and Greece, where his heritage lies and where he lived for nearly two years with his Greek grandparents when he was two and a half. But get it right, Thomas does.
The thing about outstanding theatre is that it reaches deep inside you and takes you away. You can’t munch on popcorn and whisper to the friend next to you because theatre is too intimate for that, and outstanding theatre slides those red slippers on your feet and whisks you away to another place. In Looming the Memory you can smell the olive trees, the summer fires, the women’s cooking. You can hear the villagers, the goat bells, the crickets. And you can feel the tug of that universal desire for belonging right in the centre of your being.
Papathanassiou is alone on stage, an old rug loomed by his grandmother the only prop. He plays over 20 different characters, including a chicken, and he never misses a beat. His characters are instantly recognisable, his body suddenly taken over by them – sometimes in rapid fire as they converse between themselves – almost as if he is a man possessed. Without taking anything away from his impressive vocal abilities, Papathanassiou’s body is certainly the star of the show. One particular character, an old and bitter Uncle with less than five lines to deliver, completely transforms his face and it’s truly remarkable to watch. Papathanassiou’s background in physical theatre is partly what makes this show so extraordinary. He began developing this show seven years ago, has actually performed it with no lighting or sound and still managed to walk away with rave reviews, such is his ability to hold an audience with his performance skills, energy, and a great script.
The energy that is channelled into this 70 minute performance is impressive and one wonders how Papathanassiou manages to sustain it over a three week run. Again, his training seems to hold him in good stead here. The use of the rug as the only prop is extremely effective. As Papathanassiou unfolds it at the beginning of the play so he unleashes a flood of memories. At the end as he rolls it up, these exceedingly real characters flash through his body and across his face once more in what is one of the most remarkable scenes I’ve ever seen live on stage. There were no dry eyes in the audience by this point.
Just one of the good things about this script is that all of the typical antipodean wog-boy one liners aren’t there. This is personal story-telling without the stereotypes and with much candour. Because it is a memoir piece, the emotion that Papathanassiou brings to it is real so it’s extremely moving. In his powerful physical performance he brings his audience to Greece with him, and once there, he enables us to feel what he’s feeling.
The setting of Looming the Memory might be a small rural village in Greece, but the immigrant experience is a universal one, particularly in Australia, and so the appeal of the show is wide. At its core is the sharing of own our stories and working out where we fit in the world, even if that means finding out that maybe we don’t fit in one place, but have to split our hearts into several. As Pappou, Papathanassiou’s grandfather says at the end of the show, “It is a difficult thing to have your heart in two places”.
Papathanassiou trained in Theatre at Curtin University and WAAPA (WA Academy of Performing Arts) and completed post graduate studies at VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) in physical theatre. Looming the Memory is written and devised by him and played to sell-out audiences in Perth in 2006, winning Best Production, Best Publicity and Best Actor for the 2006 Equity Awards. It also played successful seasons at the Antipodes Festival 2005 (Melbourne’s Greek Festival), New Voices Project 2005 (Melbourne) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2006.
If you couldn’t get tickets in 2006, you better hurry and book them now. This is a show definitely not to be missed.
Venue: The Rechabites’ Hall, 224 William Street, Northbridge, Perth WA
Season: 8 – 17 May 2008
Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 11am & 6.30 pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 2pm & 8pm
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing 9484 1133 / www.bocsticketing.com.au / Groups 9321 6831