The most powerful thing about Verbatim Theatre is raw integrity and emotion, for in this theatre we have the authentic voices of real people, voices that need to be heard, coming alive on stage. Taxithi, performed as part of the Cabaret Festival at The Space Theatre, is theatre and cabaret and raw emotion, and a powerfully uplifting evening of verbatim stories told by Greek women in black.
The stage is deliberately minimalist – ubiquitous hanging curtains which become scrims for back lighting, shirts that the ladies embroider the intricate patterns of their traditional costumes, and then tied up in a knot like a domestic window curtain. On the stage are suitcases full of dreams and stories. The suitcases are from the “taxithi” which simply put, means journey, but to the Greek diaspora this word has a far deeper, poignant and spiritual meaning. And the carriers of the suitcases full of stories and dreams are the three Greek women in black, Helen Yotis Patterson, Maria Mercedes and Artemis Ioannides.
These women in black were the “new Australians” of the 50’s and 60’s, or aliens as far as the “old Australians” were concerned, and Taxithi is their story. “Our lives are stretched across the ocean,” we are told in one of the stories, and the imagery is clear, as the Greek soul never leaves these women even though they are so far removed from the village or island they left behind to start a new life in Australia. Connecting them is the Greek soul music from that era – the Endehna sounds of Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis and Manolis Hiotis. These songs are performed with nostalgic passion and power, in fact I am going to be courageous enough to make an early call and say that these three ladies have got some of the most powerful voices you’ll hear at this festival.
The backing musicians, Andrew Patterson on piano and Jacob Papadopoulos on bouzouki embody the spirit of the Greek soul from that era, to the point that you expect to hear those lines from that movie Anthony Quinn made famous, “Did you say dance?” as the strands of a Mikis Theodorakis song fill the screen. And yes, these ladies do dance. And yes, it was hard to stay seated, because by the time they danced, they had shared so much with you that you wanted to dance with them. But the rhythms were infectious, and in no time at all, the capacity house was clapping those signature Greek 7/8 beats.
Underpinning these gorgeous songs performed evocatively is the plaintive cry for understanding and compassion that comes through in the stories. The message is one that all migrants understand. Nobody really wants to leave the idyllic setting of home and family, the sun drenched islands, the family gathering under the fig tree with babies lovingly being passed around from one family member to another. Some came to Australia because their Greek homeland couldn’t sustain them, others left to escape the ravages of war or the military junta. For some, it was to find love. Whatever the reason for migrating, these three women in black gave us a range of emotions and stories from the survivors and sadly, also those who didn’t have the courage to live. These are the Melbourne stories of the Collingwood Fish and Chip shops and Lygon Street delis. Melbourne was, after all, once called the “Athens of the south.”
These are the stories of the tough labouring women who worked day and night to make ends meet; these are the stories of arranged marriages to complete strangers; these are the stories of the daughter who could not be by her dying mother’s side. These are the songs of love, longing, dreams, passion, sadness, joy and hope. These are the songs that bound the diaspora Greek communities together in the back blocks of Thebarton or Collingwood with a soul that “stretched across the ocean”.
Taxithi is an “Australian Odyssey” to the Greek islands and villages right through to the back streets of Melbourne, that will stay with me for a long time.
“Efharisto!” Greek women in black. You were wonderful. Thank you. I may not have understood a word you sang, but your passion was overwhelming. Your migration stories resonated with me, for mine too, is a migration story. I especially loved the universality of your message as it would resonate, too, with the waves of refugees and migrants coming to our shores as we speak.
Taxithi certainly resonated with the capacity Cabaret Festival audience that jumped to its feet in a standing ovation. Once again, “Efharisto!”
Live Review By Bob Becker