Director: Philippos Philippou and Vangelis Makriyannakis
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
It’s not every day that you walk into a theatre and the usher hands you an A4-shaped history lesson as opposed to the programme you were expecting. Audiences attending the multimedia performance of Forbidden Stories may be grateful for the initial historical helping hand. The history of 20th Century Cyprus is indeed complicated to say the least. Yet this production, which is ‘based on interviews conducted with members of the Greek and Turkish communities’ meanders and muddles through from start to finish and things grow increasingly murky and puzzling.
It seems that there’s been no attempt to properly edit, or rather to theatrically translate the accounts of the real people behind the stories. Therefore, some monologues wax lyrically for far too long, others are cut short, and the stories that are being told simply do not get from a to b fast enough. With too many sentence fillers, verbal self-corrections, ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ there seems to be a lack of understanding that the audience are hearing these stories for the first time. Furthermore, as the audience try and keep up with the history and political turmoil it becomes increasingly difficult to establish whether the next of the four actors speaking is narrating a Turkish-Cypriot account or a Greek-Cypriot account until they’re already half way through their monologue.
Three of the four performers speak with Cypriot accents, yet the fourth, for reasons unknown, speaks with a regional British accent. Unfortunately, the result is the actor’s monologues lack authenticity – we can’t imagine the real Cypriot voices behind the words at all.
The lighting design is unfortunately poor. The lights go on accidentally whilst the performers attempt a set change, and the use of a mirror ball, not to mention the excessive use of a single torch seems affected and strange. In the first half a projector with little shadow puppets is used to illustrate the earlier 20th Century history of Cyprus. Yet an actor mounts the set and obscures most of the shadow puppet display – whether the actor, the stage design or the lighting design is to blame, is difficult to say, but nevertheless the desired affect is instantly entirely obliterated.
The production is further crippled by a lack of budget. There is a time and place for minimalism and yet it’s baffling why so much focus is placed around the moving of four Ikea-esque step stools; some of these objects seem to enjoy the spotlight for longer periods of time than the cast themselves under the aforementioned offending torch. There is also some rather dubious live filming, and Playmobil toys used to illustrate a particularly momentous period of fighting is the final straw; it seems more disrespectful than satirical.
However, the production is not without merit. There is some moving and lovely singing and the performers themselves emotionally engage with the monologues and transmit that to the audience with real earnest feeling. And indeed, to attempt this topic in the first place is admirable and should be commended. Also, there are some nice touches, like the forbidden stories hidden in the sand that creates a border between the stage and audience and which are slowly revealed on camera, though the wobbly action does make it difficult to appreciate what they are for some considerable time.
Forbidden Stories is an ambitious theatre project that seeks to give voice to the reflections of the many members of the Greek and Turkish communities who have lived through the war-torn years of 20th Century Cyprus, yet needs further revision to really do justice to that country and its people.
Reviewed on 17 May 2018 | Image: Charalambos Charalambous