Left - Thomas Papathanassiou. Photos - Antonios Baxevanidis
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. 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, Papathanassiou 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 succession as they converse between themselves - almost as if he is a man possessed. Without taking anything away from his 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. Papathanassiou trained in Theatre at Curtin University and WAAPA and completed post graduate studies at VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) in physical theatre. 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. 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.
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.
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. I sat next to my Italian migrant father as I watched the show and as soon as it began and Papathanassiou brought the love of his childhood chickens to life, I knew that this was partly our story too. At the core of this show is the sharing of our own 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”.
Looming the Memory
Written and performed by Thomas Papathanassiou
Venue: Port Cinema, 86 Adelaide Street Fremantle
Dates: Wednesday 3 & Saturday 6 December at 8pm
Tickets: $25 Full / $20 Concession / $15 Members