Review: Snoopy!!! The Musical

This review appears in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.

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Snoopy, The Musical opened at the Sutherland Memorial School of the Arts, June 15. Starring Nathan Farrow as Snoopy, Louis Vinciguerra as Charlie Brown and Lexi Hutchinson as Lucy

Peanuts! Get your peanuts! Peanuts and Hot Dogs, er, Hot Dog, er – make that Cool Beagle, the coolest beagle, Snoopy!!! Miranda Musical Society are reaching out to Peanuts fans with their latest musical. The Sunday comic strip comes to life with larger than life performances from its all-singing, all-dancing cast.

It’s been awhile since the beloved gang have featured in weekly print. And long gone are the years where a major holiday didn’t go unmarked by a Snoopy movie on TV . Remember the Great Pumpkin and the Easter Beagle? It didn’t matter your age, it seemed that there was always something to engage every member of the family. But that was a while ago. How does Snoopy!!! stack up today?

Leaving aside preconceptions and treating the plot – or more correctly series of comic strip stories – as that of a loosely strung together overview of the lives of a group of primary school kids, what do we have?

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Paul Tuohy as the blanket carrying, thumb sucking peanut, Linus.

Portrayed by a cast too young to have been inundated with Snoopy comics, cartoons and plush toys, the talented cast do an admirable job. If something of nuance is lacking it’s made up for in vitality and energy. The pace of the show skips along. There is never a quiet moment yet Louis Vinciguerra’s poignant portrayal of Charlie Brown comes across through all the clamber of the Peanut’s troupe’s emotions. If Charlie Brown’s losing to Snoopy and  his life situations has been taken for granted for generations, it isn’t in this production.

Snoopy!!! has a talented cast of singer-dancer-actors. Nathan Farrow as Snoopy oozes cool with his affected nonchalance. Alexis Hutchison as Lucy and Tamana Rita as Sally Brown are bounding bubbles of exuberance. Paul Tuohy’s lovable Linus engages the audience. Jess Punch lays out Peppermint Patty’s sensitivity and offers it to you as she looks you and Charlie Brown in the eye. But if there is anyone to fear who may steal the show, it has to be Blake Bennett as Woodstock. His portrayal is part clown, part mime, all joy.

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Jess punch as Peppermint Patty minus the iconic auburn hair and baseball cap

Filling the orchestra pit is an ensemble of percussionists, keyboards and guitars. This is a live show. Musical Director, Adam Foster and Choreographer, Madison Larsen have helped create a rich offering. Erin Macbeth’s costumes help distinguish the characters immediately, despite their head styling. Bob Peet’s set design is a mash-up of comic art, Charles Schulz’s iconic dog-house and those generic Playschool cubes. Comic images light up the backcloth and the whitewashed wings cleverly reset a scene with a new flood of bright colour in Loki McCorquordale’s complementing lighting design.

Will today’s kids like it? They may not recognise the characters. Punning, Snoopy in-jokes and 20th Century references may go over their heads. What will appeal to tweens and up is the song, dance and humour. Essentially what kids (and adults) need doesn’t change. What made Snoopy popular in the first place was the ability of the Peanuts gang to reach out with their stories. Tim Dennis’ production does this with panache.

Snoopy!!! is playing at the Sutherland Memorial School of Arts, just across the road from Sutherland train station and commuter carpark, until June 24. Tickets are available online

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How ancient is αρχαιο ?

Aρχαιο is a word bandied about in Greece a lot. I don’t mean by historians or archaeologists but by the lay person  It’s a glamorous word. It’s impressive and esoteric and marks a place, statue or artefact as important. Technically it means ancient but does it always mean Ancient Greece?

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Tower ruin outside Olinthos – it’s ancient, or is it?

Greece has a very long history of habitation by people expressing different cultures: pagan, Christian, Muslim.  Wherever you visit, if you indulge the locals they will regale you with stories about their place’s monuments, topography, churches, ruins etc. Not all of the ruins are well documented. Their history may be filed away in an archive somewhere with nary a signpost to explain why a tumbled down tower has been allowed to stand. A local yarn may be as good as you’ll get.

Chalkidiki in northern Greece has many towers I’m told. On the road to the αρχαιο, yes-if-really-is ancient, archaeological site at Olinthos stands the recalcitrant ruins of a tower. I’m told that it’s αρχαιο.

I’m also told that once upon a time it was the lookout tower for Olinthos. Sentries would be posted atop to watch the sea for pirates or foreign invaders. Sounds convincing? Hmm… I found no mention of it in all of the information on display at the archaeological site. Maybe it’s not that much, αρχαιο?

I’m told that, once upon another time when a polis was being attacked, the queen was spirited away through a subterranean tunnel system that ran from the city to the coast via this tower. But which queen, in which era? And how long was the tunnel system? Was Olinthos the starting point or was a settlement further inland? And did the tunnel reach the tower all the way at Nea Fokeas?

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Tower overlooking Nea Fokeas, Chalkidiki – is it ancient? byzantine?

Did you know that it’s said that one αρχαιο king actually buried his treasure beneath one of the towers? Truly, what I’m telling you sounds a little far fetched even to me, especially when you consider that night, that summer, when Johnny was coming back from the club and came off his motorbike right through that lower window. Johnny said that the tower was full of hard dirt – his head can testify to that. No treasure, no tunnel. Local lore needs to satisfy the ever expectant tourist.

If the locals can speculate, why not I? So…if you were to light a beacon on the battlements of the tower at Nea Fokeas could a sentry atop the Olinthos Tower see it? And if not Olinthos what about that Byzantine ruin in the beach at Potidea? And from Olinthos could it be seen further inland by Galatista? Could these towers have been part of a beacon relay from Thessaloniki to Constantinople?

Leo the Mathematician (c.790-869CE) was said to have developed the beacon system that spanned Asia Minor from Constantinople to the Cilician Gates and warned the capital of an invasion within an hour of its sighting. Leo was the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki between 840-843 CE – why wouldn’t he instigate a warning system for his city, the second city of the Empire? Theassaloniki does have that old, dare I say αρχαιο, iconic White Tower – what more could it be appropriate for? Could all of these towers be that old? Where are the other towers in Chalkidiki?

When in doubt consult the internet.  The White Tower of Thessaloniki is an Ottoman construction over the site of a Byzantine tower mentioned in medieval literature. The tower at Olinthos is the Tower of Mariana and displays a cross in the configuration of its brickwork, on its far side. And it’s Byzantine. No mention of who Mariana was, if she was a queen, when she lived nor whether she had to escape a siege through a tunnel. As it stands it was built in 1374 – too late for Leo.

The tower at Nea Fokeas is also Byzantine, St Paul’s, after the monastery complex on which it stands . It also overlooks the sea. Did St Paul visit it? When was it built? Is it connected by subterranean passage or merely styling to Mariana’s Tower? Built originally in 1407, it too, is too late to be from Leo.

The ruins in the beach at Potidea may or may not be part of Byzantine fortifications built in 1407 by Ioannis VII Palaiologos – the same year as St Paul’s! The other tower further inland at Galatista is also Byzantine. Together, could they all have been part of a later warning system?

Speculation, hearsay and local lore – heart warming hearth stories feeding the need of history devouring holiday-makers! They should probably be taken with a draught of ale, mug of hot chocolate or dragged out slowly overlooking an Aegean beach with a bottomless frappe on the table.

Occasionally local traditions can inform history. Have you heard the one about baklava?

Top 9 Reasons 2 go C Community Theatre

1. It’s catered to its audience

Many community theatre groups have been around long enough to know their prospective audiences. They can fairly well judge what their audience will enjoy and choose plays to meet those expectations.

2. It’s close to home

Transport is a no brainer. Parking is free or at least cheaper in the suburbs.

And there may be a nugget or two in the offering – you may recognise your local waiter, butcher, sales consultant shining before the footlights. There is so much more to people than meets the eye.

3. Deals with community issues

It’s a potent way of increasing visibility of an issue that may effect a community, be it local gov’t plans to remove a much beloved women’s rest centre to make way for private enterprise, or the benefits that await the suffering in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for example.

The performances may be offered by pop-up, interest-focussed groups or well known local theatrical societies. They have the power to emotionally engage and mobilise the community. Their audiences are often already invested in the concern because of geography, common interests and/ or ethnic/social backgrounds.

4. Good production values

Theirs is not the cash-and-resources strapped high school production. Imagine colourful sets, imaginative costumes and evocative lighting. Suburban companies exist and maintain themselves with fees paid by constituent members as well as box office receipts. Their takings go back into their shows and so can offer impressive looking productions.

5. It’s the stomping ground for professional actors keeping their skills up between paid gigs.

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Snoopy, The Musical opens at the Sutherland Memorial School of the Arts, June 15. Starring Nathan Farrow as Snoopy, Louis Vinciguerra as Charlie Brown and Lexi Hutchinson as Lucy

6. Often you can take even the younger members of the family

It’s a great environment to introduce the younger members of the family to live theatre. It’s too easy for the more senior family due to it’s easier access re, locale and price.

7. Tickets are cheaper than commercial theatre’s in the city. So its easy to make it a big night out more often.

Often dinner-and-a-show deals are arranged by the theatre with restaurants nearby.

8. A variety of stories and storytelling techniques are offered that you just don’t get with digital media.

Think musicals, theatre sports, improvisational and interactive storytelling.

9. Community theatre companies often offer acting courses for their members. Auditioning and getting a role in their big productions helps expand the experience of their budding thespians.

So what are you doing sitting there looking at this screen for? It’s time to see some theatre. Go on, book something.

I know where I’m going this weekend, to see Snoopy! What will you be seeing?

Cranky Ladies of History

Cranky Ladies of History! read, Cathartic Ladies of History. Fablecroft Publishing, you’ve got my attention. Short stories, little windows into the living rooms of history; whose sill should I perch on first? Eleanor of Aquitaine? Elizabeth I? Hildegard of Bingen? Mary Wollstonecraft? Empress Theodora… Hatshepsut!

Hatshepsut, the queen who ruled Egypt as a man. The glorious queen until her newphew/step-son obliterated her memory. Damnatio memoriae! That’s something to be cranky about… after she was dead. Will the story focus on her relationship with her newphew – or her brother whose rule she gave legitimacy to? Or something else entirely? I’m too familiar with her life, what if the story disappoints?

I fan across the edges of the near-shut book. There’s Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Tudor and exotic names I haven’t heard of before; women from the Middle East, Asia and Scandinavia that are equally intriguing for being made peers in this anthology.

There are so many names, so many women to choose from. Which to read first? The contents page further confuses matters. The authors – some names are familiar, most are not. Not that, that’s a deterrent.

Where’s Hatshepsut again? In the middle, Neter Nefer. Will the story talk of her possible romantic relationship with Senenmut and his fall from grace? Their alleged child together? What if nothing I can relate to is dealt with? I fan the pages again.

What of Theodora, the beloved wife of Emperor Justinian? He changed the law so that he could marry this burlesque dancer, come actress, come prostitute and make her Empress. Resplendent in pearls and jewels she remains an enigma. Was her influence really the cause of all that was bad in the Byzantine Empire? Her charitable work and religious devotion don’t add up to our modern, cliched way of seeing women. Who was she really? With the scurrilous recounts of her life by “Saint” Procopius doing her no justice, there is satisfaction in Barbara Robson’s portrayal of Theodora getting some of her own back at him.

Fitting a life into a short story is a tall order. How do you make sense of a lifetime, the journey of a soul and its many transformations in a few thousand words? Do you choose a defining moment? Or do a general sweep? And if you did the sweep how effectively could the reader be entangled? In Theodora I’ve been inspired to look for her long form biography.

I wonder if I’ll be doing the same after Hatshepsut…

In this anthology, different approaches are taken by the various contributors with varying success. When it comes to dealing with famous people whom we have a pre-existing bond to, any changes that may threaten the veracity of our investment isn’t going to be received well. Ditto for well known and loved stories. If you’re going to muck around with a legend or myth you had better improve the experience or risk disappointment. The legend of Lady Godiva, her naked ride through Coventry and the peril of Peeping Tom would seem to be in the category – you can’t touch this. But then there’s Garth Nix. Not only does he play with the story, his uplifting adaptation will stay with you long after you have finished it. It celebrates women’s strength in their solidarity, their sisterhood.

Writing speculative fiction really lends itself to the short story format. History doesn’t shackle the narrative. It’s easier to make a pithy point or shape a savvy parable when your imagination is unbounded. There are quite a few stories with speculative elements and they are enchanting but the quirkiest tale of the lot is set in the early 20th Century, in Brisbane. The charm of Sylvia Kelso’s cantankerous lady doctor Lillian and her madcap flights to the rescue will leave you smiling long after you have finished reading Due Care and Attention. I’m smiling now.

In writing a biography or historic fiction the author takes on a burden of conscience. Will their story resonate the truth? Would their interpretation be approved by their protagonist? I’d like to think that Hildegard of Bingen would have of Juliet Marillier’s Hallowed Ground. The story shows the saint’s devotion to her work, her god and living a life of humility. It shows her honesty and her strength in terms of her vocation and the society and times in which she lived.

There is a lot of variety in this anthology. It has an international feel. There are many different women to meet and diverse cultures to experience as a strong female. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable read. If there were to be a Crankier Ladies of History, I’d be looking forward to reading that one too.

And Hatshepsut…well, you’ll have to buy the book!

What’s in a good review?

When I was younger I’d get all excited about a new movie or show opening. I’d open the papers to look for the reviews with bated breath. I wanted the show to be well reviewed but I was anxious that I wouldn’t enjoy it if it was. I was aware of a gap between what the reviewers appreciated and what I did. If they liked it too much would it be hard work, you know, slow and atmospheric, or bizarre and inexplicable? Would a good review make me feel uncultured or ignorant if I didn’t get it? Conversely, if they didn’t like it and I did, I was made to feel the same way. What’s wrong with melodrama anyway?

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

Ancient audience

 

After doing a few reviews more than usual this year, I’ve come to believe that a good reviewer needs to talk to the prospective audience of the show. Who are they? Will they like it? Is it appropriate to all members of a target group or family or non-targeted audience member?

Where and by who the production has been staged should influence how the performance is judged. An inner-city boutique theatre will have nuanced choices of material it stages and appeal to a particular market. Suburban, community theatre’s will select different stories with a wider appeal. Each offering should be judged on its own parameters.

If the performance is well-subsidized and offered by trained professionals then more can be expected from its production values. If the performers are drama students learning the ropes there is a different expectation – a greater responsibility is invested with the director.

The reviewer also needs to look towards the playwright. Has the director achieved the intensions of the story? Is the story relevant? If it’s a classic play, has the production touched its modern audience? Has it reached across time and given the audience an understanding of the past that resonates today?

The budget of the performance will dictate set, sound and costume design. How these challenges are met can influence the telling of the story. The decision to have a bare set because the actors, a pretty costume, a prop or two and a good script should stand on their own doesn’t always work. Really good actors, well practised in their craft can make this look easy, but it’s not. Sometimes borrowing lavish costumes that set a particular time or reality but restrict movement – so that they remain pristine – isn’t a good choice. A bare set highlights the oft asked question – what should I do with my hands? and where to stand without devolving into a tableau of talking heads.

The aim of the performance is to immerse the audience in the reality of the story. All of the elements of staging  – performers, the stage, set, costumes, props, sound design and lighting should support that reality.

The actor is crucial. Every performer no matter how big or small their role is, is crucial to creating and maintaining the theatrical illusion. How they all interact with each other – listen to each other before reacting or responding, reinforces the world of the play. If they get up from one side of the stage and walk to the other mid speech – what are they responding to? what is their motivation? Can we see what’s going on in their head? Do we as audience members feel their agitation? Or are we wondering what the actor forgot? A big pitfall, oft stated is putting on an accent or a disability. Nothing breaks the illusion than an accent that is dropped and picked up and dropped throughout the play. Maintaining an altered state over the course of a performance is really difficult.

As a reviewer it can be difficult knowing how far to delve into criticism. A play is a good one if its target audience enjoyed it. It’s a really good one if it realises the intent of the playwright as well. It’s a great one if it does this and ticks all of the production value boxes.

So what is a good review? Like a good play, a good review will talk to the play’s audience. One that can predict the enjoyment and/or edification of the target audience.

 

 

 

Shakespeare in the Abbey

Spontaneous Shakespeare in an Abbey in Sydney? or through The Rocks plaza or in Hyde Park? or Martin Place? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience Shakespeare like Shakespeare in the Abbey!

Reviews From The Gods

Date: Saturday 28th April 2018, 8:30pm

Director: Sarah Bedi

Price: £27 (using Friend of Globe discount, would be £37 without)

A truly individual experience. Every audience member leaves this event with a different experience and set of memories to anyone else.

I first attended this event last year as a Steward. No one knew what to expect, there was not a lot of information about the format of the performance or the actors involved. The experience turned out to be one of the most magical I have ever had, so when I saw they were running the event again this year I knew I had to go. Luckily, my friend Sarah and I had jointly purchased a Globe membership as we knew this season would have many events we would want to attend outside of our stewarding allowances.

We queued outside the Abbey for about 15 minutes, perusing a map…

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Theatre Review: Coup de Grace

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James Phipps (Jimmy), Bill Ayres (Boniface), William Jordan (Oscar), Indianna Dimmer (Hailey), Margareta Moir (Grace) and Luke Austin(Adam). Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

Arts Theatre Cronulla, May 11 – June 16
Director: Tom Richards
Cast: Margareta Moir, James Phipps, Luke Austin, William Jordan, Indianna Dimmer and Bill Ayres

You can depend on Arts Theatre Cronulla to deliver a good night out. You can expect Tom Richard’s seasoned direction to bring a comedy off the page. And from internationally successful British playwright, Robin Hawdon, you can demand laughter. They have all delivered in the Australian premiere of Hawdon’s latest offering, Coup de Grace.

Coup de Grace is a comfortable situation comedy in the vein of 70’s produced British TV sitcoms. It’s not biting satire. It doesn’t set out to change the world, your morals or set you on a path to revolution. It’s a farce, a delightful farce. It’s comedy as the means and the end in itself.

Poor unsuspecting cat burglar, Jimmy, steals into the hotel room of movie star Grace Gervais (Margareta Moir). Her lifeless body lies partially covered on the sofa. Her lover, Adam, enters and mistakes Jimmy for her cuckolded husband. In Adam’s mind that makes him guilty. Jimmy tries to exonerate himself when her real husband, Oscar, walks in on them both. Oscar is quite happy to be misconstrued as her manager. Suddenly, Grace makes a miraculous recovery and then . . . proceeds to play along with her husband’s ruse. Sound chaotic? Set it at the Cannes Film Festival, add a stolen diamond necklace, Oscar’s ditsy, French secretary, gunshots, poison and a hotel manager who thinks he’s Hercule Poirot and you have a riotous night at the theatre.

With so much happening, so quickly, the story is set up in the first half with a hasty pace. Bill Ayers’ measured portrayal of the Hotel manager helps to ground the characters and anchor the plot. His comic timing is spot on. He spoofs Agatha Christie’s iconic detective’s accent, manner and pronunciation to hilarious effect. Margareta Moir’s portrayal of the histrionic diva fittingly fills the stage. Her investment in the improbable reality she projects on the other characters and their easy acceptance of it buoys the plot.

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The Hollywood diva, Grace Gervais (Margareta Moir) the victim, victimising. Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

 

Hawdon’s convoluted plot lines are all deceptions. Like an episode of Seinfeld, very little actually happens. The story is built on the perceptions and assumptions the characters make of each other. Accusations move the plot along. Grace thrives on drama both on and off the screen. She would live the life of the tabloids and holds them all in thrall as she works through her suspicions. Her husband knows it and plays along. The plot works because they all want to believe the illusion that keeps their secrets safe. The only ones that can see the truth are the audience and we laugh at the lot of them.
Hawdon’s latest play is sure to be another winner. His cleverly constructed plot weaves its magic without resort to crude language nor lewd staging. Word play and innuendo are peppered throughout a performance that raises chuckles and not eyebrows. It’s a show that the whole family will enjoy.

Coup de Grace is playing at the newly refurbished Arts Theatre Cronulla from 11th May – 16th June. Bookings ph: 9523 2779 www.artstheatrecronulla.com.au

 

 

Review: Mamma Mia! The Musical

A Michael Coppel, Louise Withers & Linda Bewick Production

Director: Gary Young

Starring: Natalie O’Donnell, Sarah Morrison, Alicia Gardner, Jayde Westaby, Ian Stenlake, Phillip Lowe, Josef Bar, Stephen Mahy

Capitol Theatre, Sydney, closing May 6. Opens Perth May 12

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Mammia Mia!?! Why review Mamma Mia? Haven’t we all seen it before or at the very least the Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried screen adaption? What more is there to say? If you like ABBA, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t. Right? Hey, it’s closing, why bother?

I didn’t particularly want to go. I know the songs. They were indelibly tattooed on my memory way before the tapes in their cassettes wore through. I saw the movie – a feel good family treat that informed my expectations of the Musical. I just couldn’t get excited, not about going to a live covers show. But Mum was thrilled. My sister suggested we take her out as an early Mother’s Day treat. Seeing Mum so eager was reason enough.

I didn’t regret it. Live theatre is an altogether different animal than film. It’s a feel good romantic fantasy. Energetic, colourful, funny and, very simply, wonderful escapism.  The songs are so well suited to the storyline that at no point did it feel like a covers show with a plot stringing them together. If anything, the production highlighted how the songs have retained their relevance over the years by tweaking their presentation. Back in the seventies and early eighties when they were first released, all of the songs had a forthright appeal. Ballads aside, in the twenty years or so since they were reimagined for the Musical, they have evolved. Or perhaps we’ve changed – matured? become a little jaded? Those direct, danceable but robust lyrics of the first half, were delivered tongue-in-cheek which was very much the tone of the first half to the intermission. Carried away by its joie de vivre it was a little too pacey at times. Those self conscious lyrics can still have emotional weight, given just a moment more to settle.

The truth in the delivery of the ballads in the second half was poignant. That the audience was moved was heard in their applause-which followed each solo. Wonderful performances were given by the entire cast. There were sight gags and hilarious stage business seamlessly woven through the choreography of Danielle Bilios, the realisation of which was deftly handled by the chorus. The dream sequence opening the second half was a visual treat in its choreography, costumes (Suzy Strout), staging and lighting. Visually stunning, Linda Bewick’s set is postcard perfect. The lighting design of Gavan Swift reinforced the Aegean island feel, then danced along with the exuberant choreography before calling the auditorium into an extended disco. It’s really a lot of fun.

Any negatives? A little off putting was the volume of the overture played before each half. It was too loud. The explosion of sound bringing in the second half could have come with an OH&S warning. Too loud and sudden. I had to check how Mum (in her 70s) took it. In the first half there were times during the full company numbers that the voices were engulfed by the music, the lyric at intervals difficult to make out. It didn’t detract from the overall telling of the story and the feeling was still conveyed in the music. Was it a technical oversight? Or are all of the bigger numbers supposed to get a rock concert treatment? Like the pacing of the first half – were the music queues called in too quickly or was it supposed to be fast? But I’m nit-picking.

Mamma Mia! The Musical is a lot of fun. Much more so than the movie. Wonderful escapism, lau and big smiles abide. Sadly leaving Sydney but opening in Perth soon.

 

 

 

 

Review: Brushstrokes of Life

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The Hellenic Art Theatre is a long running community theatre group that has entertained and edified Greek-Australians of Sydney for decades. Running acting courses, promoting performances in the Greek tongue and nurturing young performers and local playwrights, Stavros Economides and his troupe are integral to the local theatre scene. It isn’t any wonder that they’ve been tasked with educating the Greek Community about the benefits of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The NDIS aims to provide services to families living with disability in their midst. What will the scheme provide? Services to alleviate the support network of the sufferer e.g., home visits by physios, access to support groups and respite carers. All well and good but why approach a theatre company to spread the word? Isn’t the internet faster and a whole lot cheaper? And what about another stack of leaflets in the medical centre or outpatients ward at the local hospital?

The problem is barriers. Yes, you can tell people the services are available but will that mean that they’ll take up the offer and use them. The stigma of having disability continues to be felt in a community still running to catch up with the greater community in its openness and acceptance of otherness. There is stigma in having someone with a disability in the family, stigma in having to accept help from friends and social services, stigma in not behaving like the rest of the group and in a very tragic Greek way, stigma in not suffering.

The best way to combat such entrenched inertia is with emotion. That’s where Hellenic Art Theatre come in. In three one act plays written to this purpose they speak to the disabled and their carers in a way that is didactic – sans sledgehammer – and entertaining.

The first, Rematch, written by Melba Papas and Evelyn Tsavalas, addresses chiefly the disabled. Jim, a footballer, ends up a paraplegic when his new car is collected by a semi-trailer. Where was Jim’s focus at the time? Taken by a selfie. His anger is lashed out in the family home before he meets another disabled man, Nondas, who gives him hope by his own example and tells him what the NDIS offers. The prescribed denouement precludes deep character development but that’s not the point.

In Brushstrokes of Life by Helen Papfilipou, Zogoula’s denial that her grandson has a mental disability trap both him and her in the family home. She tells herself and her friend, Katie, that the boy is not mentally challenged but lazy. Dance Me, also by Helen Papfilipou, entraps the brother of a physically and mentally disabled woman in a pattern of existence that limits his relationships growing up and is now threatening his career horizons. Angela’s, his mother’s, use of guilt to manipulate him aims to hit a chord within the Greek subculture.

Sacrifice, limitation on families’ freedoms, and deterioration of mental health and well-being are all addressed by these plays. In each case it’s made clear that talking to others openly and sharing experiences brings about resolution. Like a lot of political theatre the answers are simple and they are clearly offered. Printed slogan don’t plaster the walls of the theatre but the message fills the auditorium in voice overs during the longer scene changes. Necessarily optimistic in its outlook, Hellenic Art Theatre offer positive outcomes through involvement with the NDIS.

Solid performances were given by the veteran actors – Evelyn Tsavalas, Mimika Valaris, Angela Betti, Peter Michalopoulos and Michael Kazonis. Liana Vertzayias effervescent Angela was a joy to watch. Angela could very well have been a tragic figure but for the subtle satire of Liana Vertzayias delivery, now comic, now intense. Angela was anything but a caricature.

The greatest strength of the stories lie in the way they talk to today’s community – a selfie, a laptop, a mobile phone, references to well known localities,the theatre housing the show and Greek Australian migrant culture – the mythologizing of the Patris ship and generally its social mores. Many a gentle tear was shed then left behind by amusement.

Didactic? Sure. Entertaining, much, much more. Brushstrokes of Life is showing until May 6, 2018.

What’s in a name – Macedonia?

Macedonian Boules Masks

Macedonian Boules Masks, a longstanding cultural tradition with its roots in resistance, worn today in cultural festivities and I imagine during Apokries (Mardi Gras).

Recently, and again and again during the twentieth century, the people of one of Greece’s northern neighbours have been claiming Macedonian heritage, history and ultimately Greek coastline (the prized port city of Thessaloniki), when they insist on being called Macedonian. They claim identity with Alexander the Great, the Greek speaking Macedonian King who worshipped the Ancient Greek Gods and spread his Greek language and religion throughout the lands that he conquered. The Greek people are infuriated by this and rightly, threatened. By making these claims they are laying the ground work for a “taking back” of ancient pride and territory to give to their modern day selves.

Over two thousand years have elapsed since Alexander the Great lived. In that time there have been many waves of people through his birthplace – Romans, Bulgars, Slavs, Turks. The region has shifted from being centred around Ancient Pella and within the boundaries of modern day Greece further north to include not only Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki but further afield, encroaching upon Albania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. Can any of these nations justify expansionary dreams by claiming ancient custodianship? The Greeks claim the Macedonian name and history as their own via their custodianship of the Greek language over the millennia and belief that there have always been Greeks living in Macedonia. Why wouldn’t Alexander be Greek?

Do the people of FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian) have a leg to stand on? Did all of the Ancient Greek speaking, Greek god worshipping peoples identify themselves as Greeks (Hellenes)? What of the ancient Macedonians themselves? Alexander’s tutor was the philosopher, Aristotle, who despite being born in Northern Greece (Stagira) and writing in Greek is never referred to as a Macedonian. Did Aristotle consider himself to be a Macedonian?

Could the Ancient peoples of Macedonia have spoken and written in Greek but identified themselves with a different culture? If they did, how is it that it has escaped our notice? There were Greek speakers who may not have identified as Greeks. Was Cleopatra Greek – her first language – or Macedonian, by descent from Ptolemy, or was she an Egyptian queen, as she is remembered today? How about the Seleucid’s of Syria, who like Cleopatra were descended from one of Alexander’s generals and spoke Greek? Were they Macedonians? or Greeks? When the Jews celebrate Hanukkah are they commemorating a victory over the Seleucid Greeks or the Macedonians?

What of the Greek speakers of city states outside of the Greek peninsula that Alexander didn’t conquer? What of Syracuse and its most heralded citizen, Archimedes? What of the Ancient Greek speaking explorer from what is now France, Pytheas of Massalia?   Did they consider themselves Greek? Today, when we learn about them in school, we are told they were. Are we retrospectively giving them an identity they would find preposterous?

Can any group of people make claims on a modern nation by justifying ancient descent?

Even if the people of FYROM had a strong claim on ancient Macedonian culture, could having an Ancient Greek heritage give a foreign city or country or foreign group of people the right to make claims on the land and culture of the modern Greek nation? Alternatively, does this give the Greeks an excuse to claim Egypt, Syria, Israel or France as a part of Greece? The idea is ludicrous.

When it comes to language the people of FYROM need a strong argument (or more correctly apology) for they don’t speak Greek. But Alexander did. Their language is said to be related to Bulgarian. The coming of the Bulgarians into the Balkans is documented. It’s AD/CE. Greeks love to call them Slavs. The coming and settling of the Slavs in the area, down to Arcadia is also documented, its AD/CE. If only the Byzantine Empress Irene (752-803CE) could talk to us about the kids on her Athenian block when she was growing up. Or why and whether she incited her successor, Nikephoros I to re-Hellenise the Balkans in the 9th century CE as a consequence.

The problem with arguing for or against Macedonian descent is an ignorance on both sides of the history of the area and settlements and resettlements of ethnic groups in and out of it since ancient times. Early Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and 20th Century political history should be taught in schools on either side of the debate. An ancient civilized race would have had to have existed in isolation to not have a blended heritage by now.

Today, the people of FYROM can express a much more modern culture that has similarities to their Greek Macedonian neighbours- their music (clarinet, gaeda-bagpipe and drum), dance (boosnitsa/sykathistos), wedding traditions, palette (burek/pita), religion (Orthodoxy) and resistance under the Ottoman regime. Relations could be incredibly warm if it weren’t for this obsessive fixation. But do they have any claim to the ancient name and the heritage, Macedonia?

Alternatively, if the Ancient Macedonians were Greeks, why did they call their nation Macedonia?

There is a problem with identity when applied to the Ancient Greeks. They were too fiercely independent to ever be regarded as a nation. They were always independent city states – no matter what part of Arcadia, the Aegean or Mediterranean coast they settled on. They were Athenians, Spartans, Corinthians, Delians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, Samians, Syracusans and Macedonians etc. They all revelled in the same kind of art, philosophy, science/mathematics, religion and language.

Ancient Greek culture has a parallel in modern cultural practice versus identity. If we were to consider the way an alien anthropologist would look at the world today and have to take back a clear understanding of Earthlings to her/his planet, how would s/he categorise who we call Australians, the British, Americans, New Zealanders etc? I mean the predominantly English speaking world? Could s/he call us all English and relate us back to the modern nation on the British Isles as her people? Do we not all share the same language? Yes, but … Language is not enough it seems to define a culture.

Could our alien anthropologist categorise us by looking at what we do with ourselves? Are we not majority consumerists? Does the majority not watch blockbuster American movies and video games? Do the majority receive our information on chiefly American designed/owned technology – phones, social media, news? Does the majority practice secularism over our stated religion – or lack thereof? Do American-styled-owned products dominate our households? Could our alien anthropologist then describe the English speaking world as American? We may baulk at this idea but the similarities are great.

Going back to the Ancient Greeks, after the death of Alexander and the dissection of his dominion, they would never see themselves as one Greek nation spread all over the known world. Their broad culture and language was Greek and they held this in common. They could easily trade, read Homer, worship and celebrate together. But their administration was different. And they would be able to tell each other apart. A Macedonian was as different from an Athenian as a Brit is from an American.

Moving forward in time a thousand or more years, wouldn’t an American feel threatened if Cuba changed its name to Florida? What if the Republic of Ireland changed its name to Cornwall, would the English object? And would what Aussies say if Papua New Guinea were to rename itself, Queensland or Kiwis’ if Australia decided to call itself New Zealand? I think they would all object as the Greeks do today over the attempts at stealing the name, Macedonia.