Review: Where Angels Fear To Tread

Written by E. M. Forster, adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Hart
Director: Jim Searle, Assistant Director: Maria Micallef
Guild Theatre, Rockdale
9-31st August

When asked if he thought Princess Diana had changed the Royals, Tony Blair replied that she had taught the Brits a new way to be British. Once characterised by their sense of duty, decorum, and reserve; their People’s Princess wore her heart on her sleeve. The outpouring of grief over her death marked a change in the way Brits saw themselves: they could now be a passionate people, no longer timid about showing it.

The British stiff upper lip - Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Remueira) and her obedient son, Phillip (Tye Byrnes). Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

The British stiff upper lip – Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Remueira) and her obedient son, Phillip (Tye Byrnes). Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

In 1906, Edwardian England, Diana would not be born for another 55 years. The national identity, in the view of E. M. Forster, was in need of an emotional awakening from its stultifying adherence to keeping up appearances with proper, protestant reserve. In his Where Angel’s Fear to Tread, he tells the story of a well-to-do British family who are thrown into a lather not when widowed daughter-in-law, Lilia, dies, but when her daughter, Irma Herriton (Kassandra Micallef) realises that the family has kept from her, knowledge of a baby brother.

Lilia had committed the mortifying sin of loving and marrying a Catholic, Italian native. She was encouraged to elope by her friend Caroline (Jessica Wake) who now tells the family that she intends to go to Italy and bring the baby back. She wrongly surmises that the father, Gino (Douglas Spafford) could not care for it. Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) the babe’s grandmother is provoked into having the babe fetched to England not to lose face with society. Daughter Harriet (Lani Crooks) staunchly believes that the babe cannot be deprived of a proper English upbringing. She is fanatical on the point. Son, Phillip Herriton (Tye Byrnes) is sent with Harriet to accomplish the task.

Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) answers Irma's (Kassandra Micallef) questions regarding her brother, as Irma (Lani Crooks) watches. Photo credit: Craig O'Regan

Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) answers Irma’s (Kassandra Micallef) questions regarding her brother, as Irma (Lani Crooks) watches. Photo credit: Craig O’Regan

The British psyche, obsessed with being correct, has put Phillip into limbo. He may have an opinion, he may make astute observations but he’s impotent. He is afraid to be himself. In Italy, when faced with the passionate, forthright nature of the babe’s father, he gathers courage to act according to his conscience and to break the bonds that his mother and living a proper British like have on him.

Caroline Abbott (Jessica Wake) expounding her explains to Mrs Herriton and her son Phillip. Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Caroline Abbott (Jessica Wake) expounding her explains to Mrs Herriton and her son Phillip. Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

What happens to the babe is the impetus for the emotional awakening that Forster calls for in 1906, but that Britain would eventually experience with the life of Princess Diana.
The Guild Theatre’s is an Edwardian period piece, a tragi-comedy of manners where droll wit rewards the attentive ear.

Jim Searle’s set is sumptuous – three different locales defined on the one playing area with the aid of a staircase and raised platform. The interiors of an English sitting room and Italian hotel are gorgeously recreated.

Caroline (Jessica Wake), Harriet (lani Crooks) and Phillip (Tye Byrnes) at the Hotel Stella d'Italia, Monteriano, Italy. Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Caroline (Jessica Wake), Harriet (lani Crooks) and Phillip (Tye Byrnes) at the Hotel Stella d’Italia, Monteriano, Italy. Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

The costumes are beautiful. Each actor is decked out with historical authenticity. Jessica Wake particularly looks like she walked out of an Edwardian postcard and carries herself with aplomb.

Irrepressible Caroline (Jessica Wake) comes face-to-face with the ebullient father, Gino, (Douglas Spafford). Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Irrepressible Caroline (Jessica Wake) comes face-to-face with the ebullient father, Gino, (Douglas Spafford). Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

There are many strong performances by the cast. Lani Crooks’, prim Harriet delights with her naïve belief in British supremacy. She encapsulates Harriet’s energy and passion with the plasticity of her facial expressions. Tye Byrnes’ Phillip is suitably droll. Douglas Spafford bubbles with Italian passion and exuberance. Tragi-comedy can be difficult to pull off, but the interactions between these four mains rolls. Special mention of child actress Kassandra Micallef who carried her role well.

For Bookings ph: 9520 7364 or bookings@guildtheatre.com.au

First published in the online St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 16th August, 2019.

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Reflections on ‘The Promised Woman’

Thiasos Parikia (Modern Greek Theatre)

Performances at Mytilinean House

26th May, 2019

Migrant communities in Australia may easily be lumped into groups under a “language-other-than-English-spoken-at-home” label. A convenient tag, but oh, so perforated with pitfalls when that tag is picked up for targeted marketing or used to make predictions in the behaviour of the whole. Once a community has been established for several generations and keeps accepting new-comers, different enclaves of perspectives coagulate into their own pride of otherness, while swathes of children from earlier established families assimilate. What’s left is less a homogenous group and more a fractal of divergent needs, opinions, politics and concerns.

Longstanding migrant communities are more like fractals than centralised entities.
Photo by Pictoscribe on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

For a playwright to address an issue with a long established migrant community s/he faces a problem in who s/he’s targeting? Who will the play resonate with and how will his/her voice be interpreted by the director and then accepted by the audience? Will the message be fresh and pertinent or hackneyed, passé, boring? This is the case with all new plays but when you target a community, you want your dart on board and close to the bull’s eye.

Thiasos Parikea program and the anthology from Currency Modern Drama in which the play is published

Theodore Patrikareas’ classic play, The Promised Woman, may appear to be an obvious choice for a revival but does his intent in the 1960s still have relevance today? Then, as now, there was a wave of people coming to Australia from Greece in the face of economic hardships. Australian society and Greek-Australian culture has moved on since then: can his play still speak to the migrant as it did then? And for those who lived the inconceivable norm his story depicts, how does his advice fare with hindsight?

'Throw Away the Harmonica, Pepino', the original guise of Patrikareas play

Two Greek publications of Plays by Patrikareas

The Promised Woman renders the lives of migrant men who came out here and worked hard but didn’t make the kind of money needed to return to their homeland soon enough. Wanting family life and companionship they wrote home. From Greece, women were sent who were often judged to have been left behind in the marriage stakes. A photo of their much younger, in some cases unrecognizable selves, were sent to men in Australia who sponsored and paid for their move here, such as in the botched match making of Antigone and Telly.

1963 cast list

The original cast from the first production in 1963 lists a few names that would become mainstays of the Greek theatre scene in Sydney.

Telly lives in a boarding house in inner city Newtown, where his story and that of his peers unfolds. When Antigone arrives he rejects her off hand. Although still within the limits of childbearing age, he judges her too old. He has lost face with all those around him to whom he has shown the photo of a beautiful young woman. Antigone decides to stay in Australia, find a job and pay Telly back. She shows her mettle and kind spiritedness to the other boarders. When another suiter, Manolis, with a proven work ethic, ability to save and respectful appreciation of her, asks for her, she shies off.
This play was written in the 1960’s when the feminist movement had one of the most powerful messages to proclaim – women’s liberation. The play ends abruptly with this message resounding, however, the arc of the story seems incomplete. Manolis, the respectful suitor, is a loose end that women who came after those bra-burning legends of the 60s and 70s may have accepted, seeing in him the possibilities of a balanced relationship. Women with hindsight can see in the message the sacrifice of family over a career and guaranteed independence.

Images and cast list

Images from the first production and the first English language production from the Currency Modern Drama: Plays of the 60s series – More well known names in the Sydney scene.

Director Thanasi Macrigiorgou, of Melbourne’s, Modern Greek Theatre (Thiasos Parikia) tries to mitigate the problematic ending while staying true to the original feminist message by adding an entr’acte. Here we see an aged Antigone silently remembering her ordeal with the aid of film reels and we are shown that at some point she must have started a family (and presumably married) for her grandchildren surround her playing their musical instruments.

Macrigiorgou believes in the relevance of the play and its power to speak to: the migrant who lived those untamed years; their children and grandchildren, who should come to empathise with their parent’s plight; and finally, recent Greek arrivals who he believes will find much in common with characters and their situation. But will they?

Watching this play was like looking into a sentimentalised past. What! What’s so sentimental about hardship? When it was written it would be applauded by an audience who could empathise. Today, the older generation, distanced by the travails that they have experienced afterwards, watch with a sense of nostalgia for a past they wear as a badge of honour. They endured. It made them. And they are no longer there battling. The community it depicts is no longer a supportive haven of shared experience. The community is no longer a guaranteed refuge in time of need. The recent migrant from Greece may face difficulty in finding a job, a spouse, and feel isolated, but the recent migrant won’t have the comfort of common experience with the Greek community here. We are a fractal, splintering off with different concerns, sometimes insular, sometimes fraught, but often oblivious to the need of the new migrant. Like the Australian community at large, we don’t have time and can’t necessarily relate.

Of course, somethings don’t change. There is always hardship. There is always migration. And where there exists patriarchal, agrarian societies there persists the idea that marriage can be brokered and arranged over distances, and women will be uprooted and sent to relative isolation in foreign countries as brides. The Promised Woman may speak more today to new migrant women from emerging migrant communities e.g., Bangladeshi, who are experiencing similar upheavals.

The performance by Thiasos Parikia was well received. The housekeeper, the counterpart of the comic maid role that figures in so many 20th Century Greek situation comedies, was carried off with show-stopping finesse by Marianthi Makariou. Faye Iliopoulou’s Antigone was courageous and sympathetic. Spiros Drosos’ Telly (the prospective groom) was so believable that he was booed at the curtain call.

The audience was an appreciative animal and curious to follow. They booed, they cheered, they reminisced. When Antigone waxed on about her intent and independence, she was applauded by the audience – the female portion, that is.

 Having been well received in Melbourne over several months, the Sydney run was short but enthusiastically received. Celebrating 30 years, Thiasos Parikia, continues to delight its audiences. All the best to them!

To Thine Own Self Be True

Managing Carmen by David Williamson

The Guild Theatre

Walz St, Rockdale

17th May-8 June, 2019

AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).
AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).

How can we ever be happy if we are not true to ourselves? True to who we want to be, who we enjoy being and who we would relax into self-fulfilment with? If we had the adulation of an adoring public, over-arching success in our dream career and enormous wealth, would cynicism, aloofness and a disconnect with those around us dog us? Famous footballer, Brent’s, problem is compounded by his fame. He is an incredibly talented AFL player who is acclaimed for his prowess on the field and admired for the glamorous life he is reported to have. No one suspects that he nurses an incongruous peccadillo, that once exposed, could threaten his career.

The Guild Theatre tells us that David Williamson wrote the Managing Carmen, ‘as a protest about the lives of AFL players and the game itself and as a plea for the tolerance of diversity.’ Williamson’s enormous talent brings to bear such hefty social issues with a light touch: we are too overtaken with laughter to realise we are being taught with a modern-day parable. He incites personal courage to live beyond others’ expectations calling for bravery to be who we are, and appeals to our society to accept the difference in others that we may not understand.

AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).
AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).

Russell Godwin brings a sensitivity to Brent whose private persona is both vulnerable and aloof. His transformation in the hands of psychologist Jessica (Donna Randall) is organic and believable, however, the burgeoning relationship between the two is a little downplayed. Brent is the money making prop of his agent, Rohan, played with oozing smarm by David Hines, and the target of maligning sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith), who actively searches for shears to cut down this tall poppy. The strong supporting cast is rounded out with Clara (Caitlin Gleeson), Brent’s opportunistic girlfriend.

Muckraking sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith) needling Brent's agent, Rohan (David Hines).
Muckraking sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith) needling Brent’s agent, Rohan (David Hines).

The Guild Theatre’s is an ambitious production with the integration of filmed shorts and live theatre. It makes effective use of multimedia techniques to create the sense of excitement that comes with celebrity and also to build the larger than life public persona that is suffocating AFL star, Brent. By swaying focus between the large screen and stage performers, a sense of the two lives Brent lives is highlighted but also how he is ever watched and scrutinised.

James Searle’s set maintains a nebulous space with token furnishings and on-point lighting to carry the flow of this play of short scenes and quick changes. Director Chris Searle has stitched together a lot of quick and pithy segments with seamless ease. She also makes good use of sight gags with her able cast.

Rohan (David Hines), treated to the clubbing antics of Brent's girlfriend Clara (Caitlin Gleeson) and her free-spirited intimate, Carmen (Russell Godwin).
Rohan (David Hines), treated to the clubbing antics of Brent’s girlfriend Clara (Caitlin Gleeson) and her free-spirited intimate, Carmen (Russell Godwin).

The Guild Theatre’s Managing Carmen is a big show, with big laughs and a big message, now showing at 8 June 2019. For bookings call 02 9520 7364 or online: www.guildtheatre.com.au

Images courtesy of The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

Review first published for The St George Leader

2. Searching for a Secular Byzantine World

Continuing from my previous post looking at the secular art in Byzantine ceramics of the 11th-14th centuries CE.. Perhaps a more appropriate title for this post would be Byzantines at play – hunter/falconer; a dancer; and a lady at sport.

The Hunter/Hawker

The Hunter Hawker ceramic bowl, From George and Nefeli Giabras Collection, The Bank of Cyprus Collection

Held in the Bank of Cyprus Collection, this 14th Century bowl from Cyprus depicts a young gallant in a field surrounded by birds. There is a zig-zag pattern of leaves around the rim of the bowl reinforcing the outdoors nature of the scene. The field is indicated by the flowers around him. The birds, we are told, are either his prey – falcons if he is at play, or scavengers eyeing out carrion. I lean towards the idea that he is hunting for sport – falconing? as there is no illustration of carrion anywhere in the image. He bares aloft his bardoukion – the Byzantine mace- and most likely a seistron in his other hand. The seistron would be rattled to attract the prey.

His clothing is sumptuous in its decoration and the birds surrounding him are similarly rendered. To me, the birds decorated so indicate a belonging with the male figure. They appear kept by him – likely trained for the hunt. I can’t help thinking of the sport of hawking. I imagine that the gallant attracted his game with the seistron, clobbered it with a fling of the bardoukion and awaited its retrieval by the birds. Perhaps my imagination is running amok in the field?

Dancing Figure An Athenian Ceramic reproduced with the kind permission of the Benaki Museum in Athens, Copyright, Benaki Museum, Athens

This Athenian bowl from 11th – 12th Century, held in the Benaki Museum, depicts a dancer mid performance. To my mind in her hands she clicks together pairs of metallic zills or wooden spoons that have been used in  Greek folkloric dancing like castanets. The ball on the other side of her is a prop that belly dancers today incorporate in their choreography. The patterning of her blouse is a standard motif that has been used in many of these ceramic illustrations that haven’t depicted dancers – e.g., wedding bowls. Regardless, it calls to my mind rows of coins that would shimmer when she shook. The flaring out of her skirt in both directions evokes the movement of her hips taking it there. Immodestly, her skirt falls just below her knees, like male attire in her world – something excused by her occupation. Perhaps she is dancing a precursor of today’s tsifteteli?

Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus' globorum?
Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus’ globorum? held by the Famagusta Museum, Cyprus. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Dr Michael J. Fuller


The third bowl is Cypriot. I came across it on the St Louis Community College website and am reproducing it with the kind permission of Professor of Anthropology, Dr Michael J Fuller. It fascinates me in that I can’t make out exactly what the woman is doing.

The floor length gown and restrictive coiffure define her sex. She holds a ball dangling on the end of a some kind of holding stand in one hand which she is poised to hit with a baton/bat in the other. What sort of sport is she playing? Did it involve any other players and if so how many? Two as in shuttlecock of perhaps more as in croquet? Perhaps it was something akin to Erasmus’ globurum – that she could have perhaps played alone, hitting a wooden ball and seeing how far it would go?

These have been my pick of three Byzantines at leisure. What I’ve found gratifying in trying to understand what’s being depicted here is that I’ve been able to refer to my  understanding of Western medieval history or my personal experience with Greek folk culture to try and get a connection to the past they represent. You may look at them and find something wholly individual in them. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Other posts in this short series:

1.Searching for a Secular Byzantine World

Interview: Harmonlodies Cantonese Opera

It’s really easy to get excited about Chinese Opera. Not only does it delightwith its colourful costumes and idiosyncratic make-up but it fascinates with its unique sound, lyrical accompaniment, graceful nuanced delivery and energetic and irreverent clowns. After being thoroughly entertained by the Harmonlodies Cantonese Opera Studio at their recent performance at the George’s River Council’s Lunar New Year Festival I was very fortunate to have met their President, Sandy So Ping Chan, and have obtained an interview with her. Her Opera Studio is based in the southern suburbs of Sydney. Chinese Opera is a wonderful theatre form that I’m sad to say the general Australian public misses out on seeing because there is a ravine separating those who know and can access it and those who should know just what a theatrical gem they are missing out on and would be just as delighted as I am with it.

All of the photos are of the Harmonlodies Cantonese Opera Studio performing at the George’s River Council’s Lunar New Year Festival earlier this year.

1. How old is the Cantonese Opera? 粤剧有多长时间历史?

• 在明末清初起到今已有三,四百年歷史了。
There have been 3-400 years of history since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644C.E.) to the present.

2. Has the Cantonese Opera arisen from any particular Province of China? 粤剧是从中国的哪个省份起源的?

• 在廣東廣州佛山珠江三角洲一帶開始,初是以木魚,龍舟粵謳在民間興起,後不斷及收劇種的東西,而發展型成今天之粵劇曲藝。
It started in the Pearl River Delta, Guangdong Province. It started with a wooden knocker from a Dragon Boat and slowly absorbed the other opera’s essence, becoming today’s Canton Opera.

3. How does it differ from the Opera of different regions or cities of China? Are the stories, or music, or costumes or backdrops different? 粤剧和其他中国剧种有什么区别?故事情节不同,音乐还是背景不同?

  • .同其它劇種都是兄弟劇種,互相及收學習慣共同進步,都是祖國的藝術奇葩。

The other genres, they are all brothers, in the same family. They advance each other and learn from each other.

4. Do the stories you tell with your performances originate in any particular mythology or composer and lyricists work? 你们表演的剧情有什么历史起源吗?台词有起源吗?

  • 台詞方面要都根據歷史歷代的人物過往的經歷,其中一段而編寫劇本(曲詞)表達的。

The scripts are usually based on the life of some famous people and historic stories, from the past.

5. I love the physical humour of the clowns. How important are they in full performances? 我 很喜欢粤剧里的丑角,他们在剧中有着多重要的位置?

  • 丑角方面,他們能曾加劇裡的情節氣氛,使劇情豐富,都是很重要的。

It is very important that they can add to the atmosphere of the drama and enrich the story, and make the show funny and attractive to the audience.

6. How long have Harmonlodies Cantonese Opera been together as a group? 你们的剧组成立有多长的历史了?

  • .我們成立在1996年4月17日,也曾參加過農曆新年的活動,慈善活動。例如:中國的華東水災,也得到Council的支持,免費提供場地給我們,當時籌到九千多元,交到紅十字會用來捐款振災。還有昆士蘭水災等等。

We were founded on 17 April, 1996. We participate in the Lunar New Year festivities and charity activities. We have had support from councils who have provided a free stage for us to perform. With our fundraising we have achieved over $9000 which we passed on to the Red Cross as a donation to support the flooded areas in East China and Queensland.

A real treat - St George area's own Harmonodies Cantonese Opera Studio

7. Is performing in Cantonese rather than Mandarin a barrier to a greater Chinese audience? 粤剧在中国国内其他省份的推广是否有障碍?

• .如果其他省是有廣東話的,應該沒有障礙的。
If they understand Cantonese, there are no barriers

8. Mei Lan Fang was a huge success bringing the Beiging Opera to the West in the early 20th Century. Have you considered extending the reach of your talents to the wider Australian Community with the use of English surtitles, like Opera Australia uses when they perform in Italian or French? 梅兰芳在20世纪初推广京剧发挥了很大的作用,你们有没有考虑在澳大利亚用英文字幕推广粤剧,像澳洲还有其他语种的戏剧的推广,如意大利语和法语等。

• 我們每年都會參加全球華人粵劇節的也曾參與法國巴黎的演出,加拿大多倫多的演出,廣西省,剛剛也參加了佛山,湛江的演出歸來。
Every year we attend the World Cantonese Opera Festival in Toronto, Canada and Paris, France. We just came back from Foshan and Zhanjiang, two cities in Guangdong.

I’d like to thank Sandy So Ping Chan, for allowing me to interview her and also her daughter Babor and Liya Lei Christianos for their help in translating backwards and forwards from English to Cantonese and then Cantonese back to English

Hopeless Heroes–interview with Stella Tarakson

Antipodean Odyssey

Last week I had the pleasure to meet Stella Tarakson, the author of the delightful Hopeless Heroes series.  They’re chapter books for primary school kids, and feature the adventures of a boy called Tim, who accidentally invokes the hero Heracles, when he breaks his mother’s favourite vase.  Mayhem and mischief ensue–Heracles is strong but needs direction, and Hera and Hermes are continually meddling.  (The first few books are written up in the Our Mythical Childhood survey …) 

Tarakson is from Sydney, Australia.  Her parents emigrated from Greece, and she talked with me about how the Greek myths resonated for her as a child, and now as a storyteller.  It was fascinating to hear her thoughts, and to think about the different ways that Greek myth travels around the world–to the Southern Hemisphere and back again.  Tarakson’s books are published by a British publisher, though I like to think a…

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Women in Orthodoxy

St Kassiani
St Kassiani (Cassia) who with a feminist’s mind challenged Emperor Theophilus assessment of women and lost his hand in marriage. Read her story at https://orthodoxwoman.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/hymn-of-st-kassiani-cassiani/

When I walk into an Orthodox Book Shop or up to the Church book stall I am faced with a diverse offering of spiritual aides in the form of the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Church. Beautiful books and uplifting.

When I began seriously to look into Orthodoxy as a faith and not a cultural imperative I was drawn to the writings of Russian writers, English, Scandinavian, basically anyone writing in English. There were Greek surnames amongst the limited offerings but I always suspected a cultural bias. A good portion of books written and offered in English were by writers on the Early Catholic Church, but again I suspected a bias.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and there a lot more books written in English on offer – colouring-in books, picture books for children, books on icons, saints lives, prayer books, service books, books on spirituality even an Orthodox Study Bible! There are books on every aspect of faith in Orthodoxy you can imagine but very few for guidance if you are not aspiring to life in a monastery or if you are looking to connect with the Orthodox Church as a woman.

As a woman I have my own issues with the Orthodox Church. I do not want to be a priest. I know of few, male or female, who would want this vocation but I have an issue with the Church for not allowing women this path if they have it in them. The way I see it, the Church cannot embrace women completely in its fold if it relegates our role, and greatest calling, to being good mothers. Being a good wife and mother is an incredibly lofty ideal, often a burden with late rewards – a toil through darkness where there is fear for what the light of day will reveal as the result of that labour. I do not disparage in any way the call of motherhood for many it is a heavy cross to bear, however, what of women who by circumstance or lack of calling cannot be mothers? Because they do not fulfil this obligation in the life of the Church, are they not completely members of that family? Are they just a pastel version of a full hue member? So, most men who don’t marry or form a family don’t choose to become priests but because the path is open to them if they shape their will towards it, they can never be pastel, or mere shadow members. In other words, because all men have the potential to fulfil the Church’s greatest earthly vocation and women do not, there is great disparity in the way that the Orthodox Church embraces its male and female members.

I have read books on Feminism and Christianity, and Woman and the Priesthood written from members of the Orthodox Church. I have understood the arguments. My eyebrows have been raised by some of the concerns – why would anyone want Aghios Oros to be open to women, it’s a sanctity and sacristy for men who are doing spiritual battle? My jaw has dropped – women can’t be priests because they can’t grow a beard to be a living icon of Christ? In the end I can ignore the argument because I am a wife and mother and because for all my concerns with my Orthodox Church when I participate in the liturgy I feel a calmness and I feel love washing over me and that there is a truth here that I cannot understand. But how much harder must it be for a single woman full of potential?

Tonight, the Troparion of St Kassiani will be chanted as a part of Holy Tuesday services. I am reminded that my Church doesn’t disparage women and it holds sacred the perspective of this holy and very human lady. Yes, I know and mention her now without sarcasm, the Holy, Blessed, Pure and Ever-Virgin Lady Theotokos graces the heights and altars of my church, but how much did she have to struggle in raising her perfect child? As a female member of the church, I feel there is a lack of female role models. Women who weren’t perfect, didn’t have perfect children and perfect husbands but women who struggled and are venerated and who spoke as prophets or perhaps as priests.

Photo Credit: St Kassiani the Hymnogragher

Review: Trojan Women

Trojan Women by Euripides

Hellenic Art Theatre

Director: Stavros Economidis

Euripides was a complex fellow. He wrote tragedies for the stage that garnered him a lot of negative criticism but also public acclaim. He revelled in women’s concerns, writing some of the strongest women in theatre history, however, he was accused of being a woman hater. Was he? He certainly parades a few outraged, noble heroines in this production but what of his fascination for the femme fatale? Admire them he did, but he couldn’t quite trust them or the beguiling power of their sexuality. In The Trojan Women he also takes on controversial subjects like the futility of war, raising the mirror to his own community’s faults, painting them the villains. Consequently he is considered a very modern playwright. 2500 years later we still relate to his messages.

Hellenic Art Theatre is presenting this Ancient Greek tragedy in Greek with English surtitles at their theatre space in the Addison Road Community Centre as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney. Directed by Stavros Economidis this production has all of the elements that you would expect from Ancient Greek Theatre: monologues; masks; an ever-present chorus and drama, drama, drama.

Publicity Poster for Trojan Women by Euripides

The Trojan Women looks at the devastation of war. Through the experiences of one family, the family singled out by the Greeks to receive the harshest treatment because they are the first family of Troy – Queen Hecuba, the princesses Polyxena, Cassandra and Andromache, Euripides highlights the plights of the losers, the prisoners, the enforced exiles. Hellenic Art Theatre invites its audience to relate to the women as refugees and boat people. Unlike the refugees of our day they are not leaving their homeland to start again but as captors of the killers of husband, father and son.

Mimika Valaris plays Ekave (Hecuba), Queen of Troy – the human embodiment of devastation, rage, loss, grief and helplessness with the chorus of Trojan Women in the background

Mimika Valaris as Hecuba, is Troy – its queen, its first mother, grandmother, shepherdess and widow. She carries the audience with her as she embodies the loss of home, community, family and order. She is Euripides first wailing woman, manifesting the pain, fear, uncertainty and rage of all of the women of her city. And her women – the women of Troy are the masked ladies of the chorus. They are the commentary on the events unfolding and the emotional thermometer. If this is your first Ancient Greek play the chorus will impress you in the interplay between the individual members and the group and the stylised use of space. The chorus remains the voice of the individual subsumed into the collective voice of a united community suffering together.

Astyanax and the Chorus
Astyanax (Deon Gama) and the Chorus


Talthybius (Nick Tsioukanis), the Greek’s messenger provides the book end of each monologue but he is also the one who moves along the action. Special mention must be made of child actor, Deon Gama who performed his silent role with maturity and focus beyond his years.

Talthybius (Nick Tsioukanis) the Messenger delivers the fate of the boy-prince Astyanax (Deon Gama) to his mother, Andromache (Evelyn Tsavalas)

Visually, it is an impressive production. The thrust stage with its apron seating closely approximates an ancient amphitheatre. The costumes glitter and contrast with the walls and fallen blocks of the city. The monologues are physicalized with big gestures helping to convey meaning to a non-Greek speaking audience.



Menelaus (Polyzois Patelis), the jilted husband of Beautiful Helen aka Helen of Troy (Gaelle Emvalomelos)


You can see this production, with its easily accessible English surtitles each weekend until the 7th April. With Greek Theatre not performed outside a University setting very often, it’s a good opportunity to see the work of one of the greatest Classical tragedians. Tickets can be booked online http://www.hellenicarttheatre.com.au/


This blog post first appeared on the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader website on March 20, 2019.