"All As One" Kiss Me

Stamatis Kraounakis and Speira Speira
Prosopa Events
Union Chapel

Giorgos Stivanakis, Stamatis Kraounakis and Kostas Bougotis Credit: ML Photography
Cellist Giorgos Tamiolakis and Stamatis Kraounakis Credit: ML Photography
Sakis Karathanasis, Giorgos Stivanakis, Kostas Bouyotis, Charis Fleouras and Christos Gerontidis (Photographed in Athens) Credit: Yannis Priftis

Stamatis Kraounakis slowly crosses the half-lit stage and carefully lowers himself on to the piano stool, raises his hands and then begins to play. There is a ripple of notes and then softly and sweetly he starts to sing.

It is his song “For You”. Five members of Spiera Speira, all in white, enter like ghosts to group themselves around a table formed from a cable reel. With surges of sound and sudden hiatuses, the music is unmistakeably Greek. The singer/songwriter’s one-off London concert has begun in typical theatrical fashion.

In Greece, Kraounakis is a sort of Elton John figure, a flamboyant personality performer in glasses who is also a composer, but this is a big guy who is very hairy and carries a good few more stones and a reputation as a theatre director.

He’s a rotund diva attended by acolytes, at the same time controlling autocrat and yet gentle and caring. He takes centre-stage in the spotlight—and by right for this show celebrates his career: 35 years of composing, performing and directing—but sometimes he tries to fade into the background to let attention focus on the rest of the company.

Everything in this non-stop two-hour show has Kraounakis associations. If he didn’t write it then it comes from a show he directed or is something that is part of his story. There are popular hits, with which the audience sing along, a touching extract from poet George Seferis’s diary about refugees from Smyrna arriving to a bleak reception in Chios, reminders of productions from Shakespeare to Dario Fo and a few songs by others that are just part of Greek history.

Although they are playing in front of the huge Union Chapel pulpit, not the setting they have toured Greece with, you can forget where you are as a white-clad figure turns on the top of the table to a rembetiko rhythm. There may not be a bouzouki in the building but for that number you are transported to a buzzing bouzoukia. Kraounakis is supported by a team of singers who are also actors and a trio of accomplished musicians (Aris Vlahos on keyboards, Vaios Prapas on guitar and Giorgos Fleouras on cello). The sound is great too.

There are love songs and sad songs and comedy. Kraounakis, tongue-in-cheek, ticks off his Speira Speira boys to the lyrics of Hadjidakis’s Children of Pireaus: “I’d so like to have one, two and three and four and five…”. A highlight is when Chris Fleouras, who has already wandered off the stage into the front row clutching a bottle, climbs back up to deliver a brilliant drunk rendering of Dario Fo’s version of Jesus at the marriage in Cana.

There is a rapid-fire extract from Michael Chourmouzis's The Cardplayer performed by Giorgos Stivanakis. On the one hand there is a rich-voiced operatic trio from Christos Gerontidis, Sakis Karathasis and Kostas Bouyotis that fills this huge space with rich sound to round off a performance of “Red Shades” but then Kraounakis puts the whole company through a high-kicking routine that he isn’t pleased with.

It is an emotional evening with a house full of Greeks far from home and Kraounakis moved by bringing the show to London for this last performance of a production that has played two seasons in Athens and toured Greece.

I hope this talented company will be back soon with one of their musical theatre shows—and next time with surtitles!

Reviewer: Howard Loxton