Cafe Rebetika! | The Follies CompanyCafe Rebetika! promised a night of music and dance brought together by a journey into the heart and soul of rebetika (the Greek Blues), a way of life from the urban slums of 1920s/30s Greece that intertwines music and social philosophy. The show has been touring both capital cities and regional areas through 2011 and there was an earlier production in 2009.

The play is set in 1936-7 Piraeus and the director's notes tell us that all the events are based on true stories, historical fact and actual people. It is a story of displacement and a rebellious determination to live despite the outside forces that seek to crush the individual. Along with a strict code of personal integrity it is the music that lifts the spirits and makes life worth living.

Rebetiki, a Melbourne based band who play traditional intruments drawn from rebetika, including the six-string bouzouki and baglama, have toured widely and will also be known from their appearances on on the ABC's Spicks and Specks. They play live and are on stage as the play opens along with Fofo the waitress played by Sophia Katos with a cheerful and welcoming energy,

The set, designed by Bill Buckley is suitably rustic in its realisation and safe and enclosed in its feel – the outside world only enters as characters come and go through a door at the rear.

Whilst the singing, dancing and music are engaging – I always love the contained energy and communal nature of Greek dancing – the script failed to create a meaningful dramatic arc for me. I felt the actors struggled with rather simplistic dialogue that tended to be derivative: I flinched at the direct take from Shakespeare as Areti tells Stavrakas 'There are more things in heaven and on earth, Stavraki, than are known of in your philosophia.'

The heart and the passion was there in the music illustrated most powerfully when Lucy Najm as Katerina sang a traditional song Tin Ora Tou Thanatou (At the time of death). But overall it was as if director and script writer Stephen Helper was trying to do and say too much; had sought to bring together too many disparate strands – people and events – with the music of the time.

I have no doubt that this performance has and will continue to appeal to those who are familiar with the events on which it is based. On the night many audience members were singing quietly along with each of the songs and most of the audience cheerfully joined in when asked to clap along. However, in order to reach a more general audience, the script needed to be more selective and find a way of welding the disparate elements together more effectively into a satisfying whole.

the Arts Centre in association with The Follies Company presents
Café Rebetika

Directed by Stephen Helper

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 3 – 13 November 2011
Tickets: $31 – $72
Bookings: 1300 182 183 |

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