Even in Greece you can get the blues

Cafe Rebetika
Cafe Rebetika

ROWSING through some old albums at the in-laws, director Stephen Lloyd Helper stumbled across rebetika, a style of Greek music born of the 1930s.

Listening to the music he realised there were stories that needed to be told.

With the help of Thomas Papathanassiou, a recent graduate of Curtin University’s theatre training, Cafe Rebetika was written. Driven by the music, the production tells the socio-political story of Greece in the 1930s.

"A lot of people don’t know about this part of history," says Papathanassiou. "For most Greek people it’s a wound in their history. A lot of people died and lost their land."

The story is set in a hash den where musicians, anarchists, refugees, communists, prostitutes and manges – tough guys who live by a strict moral code – gather.

While at the centre of the story is the love story of manga Stavrakas and Areti, Papathanassiou plays Petrakis, a lost survivor.

"He has survived on the streets as an outcast for years," says Papathanassiou. "He can’t talk about it and everyone in the hash den realises that. He is smart and he writes music, but like many people who live there, he has been through a really tough time.

"That’s why they turn to drugs– to hashish and heroin to block the past."

Petrakis does come good, however, standing as the measure of hope in the story. Through the survival of art, their people and their culture the stories of rebetika can be told.

"It’s similar to the history of American blues, when displaced people have taken their art forms with them," says Papathanassiou. "Rebetika is beautiful, it invades you."

Cabaret, music, theatre and dance unite in the new production set in the rebetika sub-culture to be staged in Lismore on Saturday.

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