Actor Aliki Chapple is bringing her solo show, M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A., written by Greek playwright Lena Kitsopoulou and directed by Stella Duffy, to The Kings Arms in Manchester next month. She tells us how developing the show was her reaction to the economic crisis back in Greece.
When the economic crisis first hit Greece, I was already living in England. Desperate for news, and distrusting both the state broadcaster and the oligarch-owned private news media at home, I scoured the internet for articles. These days there are a number of English-speaking journalists, both Greek and foreign, producing quality work on my country. Then, things were different. Sensationalist nonsense abounded, all racist generalisations and europhobic rhetoric. Words like “lazy” and “profligate”, were common, as were the phrases “tax-dodging”, and “dancing on tables”. In the comments, strangers wished starvation on us, and openly gloated that the ancient ruins and turquoise bays that are our heritage would have to be sold for cash. Meanwhile, the government back home was slashing pensions, removing workers’ rights and devastating public services. The sit-in at Syntagma was teaching a new generation direct democracy, riot police teargassed protests, the Golden Dawn was beating up people who seemed to be foreign, or gay, and cancer patients were going from hospital to hospital, hoping that one or another still had supplies of expensive, no longer imported, chemotherapy drugs. I felt, urgently, that I had to do something. But what’s an actor to do? Make theatre.
One of my oldest friends was an actor in Athens before she became a journalist, and still knows the theatre scene well. I asked her what the best new plays there were, if any of them had to do with the crisis, whether she thought I might be able to get the rights and translate them. “You’ll never translate it, it’s untranslatable. And it’s not about the crisis, but the best thing I saw this year was M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A, by Lena Kitsopoulou.” Athens is a small city, in some ways. By the following morning I had the writer’s email address, and shortly afterwards, a copy of her play. It was untranslatable, and not about the crisis, but I might as well see what it was all about. I wouldn’t read the whole thing, not until I had some other new Greek plays to compare it to; just a quick look at the first couple of pages.
I looked up from the text an hour later, entranced. What I had read, unstoppably, in its entirety, was a monologue for a woman my age. Vivid, with a compelling voice, it was barely a narrative. Barely punctuated too – endless sentences, some going on for several pages, skipping wildly from topic to topic, ornamented with rude words, espousing all sorts of opinions, many of which I disliked, full of jokes, spiky, aggressive, loving, idiomatic. I could see why my journalist friend loved it. I did too. I could also see why she thought it untranslatable. I was determined to try.
It took me months to translate it, with one pun-filled section near the end taking nearly as long as the whole rest combined. I was pleased with my work, but was at a bit of a loss what to do next. I didn’t have relationships with venues, or funders. I started talking to people about it, found myself a producer. I found myself a director, too, but that fell through. Then another, that fell through as well. By now, years had passed from the time I first read the play. In despair, I took to Twitter. “Doesn’t anyone want to direct my show?” I didn’t really expect an answer. I certainly didn’t expect one from one of my favourite theatre people in Britain, the unstoppable and apparently indefatigable creative force that is Stella Duffy. “Send me the text”, she said. And then “Yes.” She said yes.
Stella found a lot more in the play, and in my relationship to it, than I could have ever dreamed. She brought out the best in M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A. In me, too. Nerissa Cargill Thompson had one big, brilliant design idea that made everything work, and a hundred smaller ideas that made it work better. And we have a show. Would you like to come see it?
Mairoula is a name. Maybe it’s her name; she never says. She will explain the acronym though, as well as a few other acronyms of her own invention. But first she’s got some other things she wants to tell you. About sex and death and watermelons, why she’d welcome a devastating earthquake, and how she wishes you all the happiness in the world.
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Aliki is also part of the team behind new all-female Lancaster-based theatre group, The Rose Company. Keep an eye out for upcoming projects…