The Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
This is a triple bill of three closely related plays which was first staged by Karolos Koun's famous Theatro Technis in Athens in 1965 when it must still have resonated with memories of the German Occupation and the Greek civil war. Born ten years after Harold Pinter and writing this first work when Pinter was just beginning to get known, British audiences may find some affinity with his work in its sense of menace and the dysfunctional relationships between her characters. There have been earlier productions here but in different translations.
References in the first play, The Overnight Visitor, to the Arch of Galerius and to the sea place it as set in Thessaloniki but whether their grouping as 'The City' indicates that all three take place there is uncertain. Indeed they all offer very intimate indoor situations and could take place in any urban area, though there are many aspects of these plays that will have specific connotations for those with some knowledge of modern Greek history and would have made them particularly powerful for their original audience. Even without that background, these are unsettling references that echo fears still with us.
In none of the plays can we be quite sure of the relationships and of the truth behind what the characters tell us. In the first an old lady (Sarah La Fevre, suggesting her years through performance, eschewing an aging make-up) claims to have a daughter baking cakes upstairs, later we hear she had no daughter but a son, and he was executed during the Occupation. Downstairs a girl returning from some years in Germany has talked a man she met at the station into giving her shelter for the night - but what is the deal here? And what happened in this man's marriage? In The City we met a photographer (Mark Brennan) who has made a speciality of shots restaging death scenes: street accidents, death camp starvation. His host suggests a picture of himself in bed with his wife naked and murdered on the carpet. When the husband leaves the room she encourages the photographer's advances but again all is far from what it seems. The Parade gives us a pair of squabbling siblings; or are they siblings? The small boy is watching the preparations for a public festivity in the square outside but what is happening is something horrible and which will affect him and his sister very closely.
In each of the three plays the performers offer us very contrasting characters. Nina Rockhill's non-stop gutter-accented chatter as Sophie the 'Overnight Visitor' is set against the introverted uncommunicative Mimis of Alex Andreou; Toby Spearpoint's Kimon in The City sits in the shadows with a book while Aimee Parkes' Elizabeth brings an outdoor freshness and vitality, and in The Parade the short-trousers and an animated manner of John Trindle's little Aris are set against the grown-up restraint of Coren Fitzerald's Zoe, who at first refuses to take any interest in what is going on outside.
Each play has a different director but Paul Caister, Verena Lewis and Kos Mantzakos have achieved a unity of style that makes their work one piece. A great many of this cast are graduates of the Poor School.with which two of the directors are associated. They there seem to have acquired skills in accents which distinctly denote class differences and in rapid delivery, though sometimes words spill out without perhaps being properly thought so that stresses do not entirely reflect sense and there were times when, with the speed or the intimacy of the playing, I missed some details. References elsewhere to other versions suggest that some of the content may be more specific than appeared here, or perhaps some cuts were made to make a time-span suited to contemporary audience expectations. If there were they don't lessen the effect.
At the Lion and Unicorn until 15th March 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton