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Café Rebetika!

Marika Bryant

KULTOUR: Of all the Tavernakis in all the world, you have to walk into mine…
Café Rebetika!
Sex and drugs and rock and roll: Has it ever been any different? I wondered this (yet again) after experiencing Café Rebetika! – the latest production brought to Lismore via Kultour, in association with the Follies Company and many sponsors, NORPA being one.

Greek history unfolds and unravels before my very eyes in this production; some familiar; some daunting; and much of it revealed and portrayed for the first time, enabling me to witness (and almost be part of) events from the past that still hold true to many Greeks today.

Genocide is still a dirty word.

At the Café Rebetika, the audience is brought into the fray. The young ‘garsona’ invites us into the “basement hideout, just a couple of tables and chairs,” where there are “so many stories,”; stories set to rebetika music which I, personally, would have loved to hear a tad louder. The ‘Greek Blues’ should wash over you; I was straining to hear more.

Rebetika was born out of the misery of the times, and to quote the programme, “Cabaret, music, theatre and dance unite in this new production set in the exotic and gutsy rebetika sub-culture. Born out of outcast and despair, the men and women of rebetika create a utopia of acceptance, respect and defiance.”

As the music informs the story and the story begat the music, to quote: “The music (rebetika) grew out of many influences – Greek, Turkish, Jewish, Balkan, African and even Irish … Rebetika encodes the joys and sorrows of the people who make it and with it, [we] express our own…”

Personally, I would have liked the music to be in the foreground; loud and proud; and with heartfelt integration. This would not be too complex to achieve, especially considering the leverage for the Greek dancing that springs into action at every twist and turn. Opa!

The characters who weave in and out of the Café Rebetika all have a story to tell; stories which are revealed through song, dance, and emotion. Scenes are set and played out with the all the timeless gusto of love gone awry; the need for acceptance, be it via God and the Church or through one’s own personal moral code; dealing with the results of life in the hash-dens and junkie caves; violence and idealism, and how could communism possibly get such a strong foothold in the birthplace of democracy?

The Greek language is woven, also, throughout the performance, and familiar words like ‘Ouzo ke Krasaki’ (Ouzo and Wine) wash over me.

Some of my favourite one-liners from the show: “Governments are all the same”; “a true communist would give me one of those sixes”; “bring back the king, bring back Zeus”; and my favourite, “I’d rather go to America, but Australia is free…”

The Smyrna inferno and the Great Catastrophe of 1922 are historical reminders that things don’t change much in domestic politics. Utopian sub-cultures experiencing defiance and heartbreak; music, stories, hopes for better times; sexual controversy and drug addiction as a means of escaping another reality – doesn’t it all sound familiar?

As my own Uncle Takis said to me on a recent trip to Athens (after I had outlined that I could only speak a few words of Greek), “You know, Marikaki, everyone in the world speaks Greek, they just don’t know it.” How right he is!

Café Rebetika!
Director/Conceiver/Writer: Stephen Lloyd Helper
Co-writer/Choreographer: Thomas Papathanassiou
Musical Director: Argyris Argyropoulos
Lighting: Nigel Levings
Costume Design: Adrienne Chisholm
Sound Design: David Franzke

Musicians: Achilles Yiangoullis, Argyris Argyropoulos, Takis Dimitriu, Tony Iliou, Paddy Montgomery, Luke Plumb

Actors: Alex Blias (Yiorgos & Michalis); Sophia Katos (Fofo); Michael Kotsohilis (Nikos and Gregoris); Lucy Najm (Katerina); Tony Nikolakopoulos (Stavrakas); Thomas Papathanassiou (Petrakis); Jennifer Vuletic (Areti).

2011 National Tour Dates
March 31 – April 1: The Arts Centre, Gold Coast
April 7 – 10 and 12 – 16: The Street Theatre, Canberra
April 19: Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre
April 26: Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre
April 30: Cairns Civic Theatre
May 5 – 8: Sydney Opera House

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Marika Bryant is an artist and writer living in Northern New South Wales, graduating from Southern Cross University (Bachelor of Visual Arts) in 2004. Marika has worked as a writer for magazines, advertising agencies and other ‘strictly for profit’ institutions and is now focussing on her career as an abstract expressionistic, poetry based artist with a twist. Having written (and performed) the odd comedy skit, and been caught behind the microphone once or twice, Marika can empathise with many in the ‘arty world’, knowing that it isn’t always easy!

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