Melbourne was a major beneficiary of an influx of Greek nationals to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Their legacy lives woven into the city’s fabric — kafe and markets that brought exotic goods to the suburbs, Greek language overheard on trams. This first non-Anglo wave of migrants to Australia endured long sea voyages in hope of a better life, sometimes finding unexpected challenges on arrival.
Many experiences have not been shared, even with family. Through dramatization of such stories, Taxithi: An Australian Odyssey by Helen Yotis Patterson gives life to the histories of some Greek migrant women, accompanied by stirring music inspired by the homeland.
The use of “odyssey” is evocative and seemingly appropriate for the courageous journeys of our subjects, undertaken with family or alone, by choice or compulsion. The three singers, Yotis Patterson, Artemis Ioannides and Maria Mercedes are said to embody the three Fates of migration: The Decision, The Journey, and The Arrival. The attempt at a mythological dimension didn’t seem integral to the personal stories, and I found it a forced addition.
Similarly, song lyrics could be underwhelming at times. From the culture that gave us the Trojan Horse, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, and Odysseus and the Sirens, I had expected a more literary experience. Songs sung in Greek with projected English lyrics like “love is dust” and other blunt phrases often didn’t achieve this. The projections of black and white photos going by, in a blur, were often more distracting than instructive.
Surprisingly, the absence of digital effects made us more able to experience the raw power of the vocals and music. In her solos Mercedes achieved a grief and longing that required no translation. Harmonies were polished and satisfying throughout the performance. Pianist and musical director Andrew Patterson with bouzouki soloist Jacob Papadopoulos presented a soundtrack that effectively supported the emotional gamut from heartbreak to joyful new beginnings.
The telling of stories made minimal use of props, making the performer’s words the centre of our attention. This, and the smooth blending of one scene into the next, was testament to Petra Kalive’s direction. Each performer showed their skill through the recounting of tales touching on loss and heartache of parting. It wasn’t all mournful though. Yotis Patterson gave us some of the excitement of travelling to a new land, as well as an obvious flair for the comedic. Ioannides excelled as the teenager concealing passionate thoughts.
I found the most affecting of the stories were the ones that gave us some insight into Greece’s political upheaval as they helped me understand that some travel plans were motivated by an urgent need for safety.
If I was to quibble a little more, I did feel that some of the migration stories could have related to any place or time. Brief mentions of Footscray or Collingwood didn’t strongly illuminate the era for me, or the challenges that “New Australians” faced in a foreign culture, ones more serious than boring food.
The piece gently notes that Greek migrants worked out fine for Australia, and asks why we are now so distrustful of the next wave? It seems reluctant to confront its audience with its own attitudes, and risk a potentially uncomfortable exploration of ongoing racism. Maybe Taxithi: An Australian Odyssey is a little too polite and modest about the contributions of migrants to serve as an advocate for them.
However, the personal stories presented give good insight into the diversity of motivations for migration. These illuminated my understanding much more than a mere historical overview. Musically and vocally the piece is strong, and through its tales of resilience it is likely to have an emotional impact on many.
Director: Petra Kalive Featuring: Artemis Ioannides, Maria Mercedes, Yotis Patterson Musical Director: Andrew Patterson Musician: Jacob Papadopoulos
Taxithi: An Australian Odyssey
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 3 March 2016 – 7.30pm
Season extended to 24 March, then returns 5 – 10 April 2016
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Maria Mercedes in Taxithi: An Australian Odyssey – photo by Sarah Walker
Review: Jason Whyte