Eftihia: Life Has Two Doors at La Mama Theatre

“Eftihia – Life Has Two Doors” written by Helen Yiotis, is playing at La Mama Courthouse Theatre this weekend, and next Sunday, but unfortunately, tickets are sold out. Part of a Greek play trilogy programmed over three weeks, Eftihia – Life Has Two Doors, is the first instalment, and judging by the ticket sales, it would seem there is a hunger in Melbourne for plays written by Greeks about Greek culture.

Playwright Helen Yiotis, who is also a singer, has cleverly taken the story of Eftihia Panagiannopoulou, one Greece’s most treasured poets and lyricists, and adapted it for a wider audience. A show for anyone who has an appreciation for the rembetika movement of the 1930s, or for the history of the ‘Greek blues’ – music associated with pain, disadvantage, sorrow and the bouzouki – will really enjoy this night at the theatre.

Not much is known about Eftihia, however in more recent years, a film and book have been created to try and piece together her life story and to understand her influence on rembetika music. I haven’t read the book or watched the film and knew little about her when I saw this play. Eftihia wrote poetry compulsively from a young age, but after developing a gambling addiction, she began to collaborate with composers to sell her lyrics to fund her gambling. She has been credited for 400 songs, however apparently, it is believed that there are hundreds of rembetika songs she has not been credited for. She would sell her words for very little money, often waiving her rights, just so she could gamble.

Helen Yiotis, who is also the producer, is to be applauded for the work she has done here. Researching Eftihia’s life, and creating a narrative, a story, to present to audiences, whether Greek or not. It was really educational, entertaining, emotional and inspiring. Eftihia had a lot of death and pain in her life, often struggling to make ends meet. Her life story is very interesting, from a feminist perspective, but also how she crossed paths with many celebrated Greek musicians and actors of that era.

The set, also designed by Helen, was quite eye-catching. We are placed in Eftihia’s kitchen, with her credenza, her Greek coffee pot, record player, Greek icons and special plates, a notebook and playing cards. The curtains hanging from the ceiling are semi-transparent, and Eftihia is constantly looking out of them, afraid that she will be killed. However, these curtains are cleverly used to project the English translation of Greek music, songs written by Eftihia, but sung on the night live by Alkisti Pitsaki, who has a beautiful voice, with Andrew Patterson on piano and Jacob Papadopoulos on bouzouki.

As it states in the La Mama program, Helen wrote this play for actor Katerina Kotsonis. I find this very interesting. I have seen Katerina perform in many plays and screen work over the years, and I have to say that this is her best performance. It felt as if she was the right person to play Eftihia. That she kept me engaged for 100 minutes and also made me cry is a testament to her extraordinary acting abilities. She really embodied Eftihia.

While the play was text heavy, it was written in a way that you were engaged, because you knew if you drifted off, you would miss an important piece of the puzzle of Eftihia’s story, and you didn’t want to do that. The directorial decisions by Maria Theodorakis kept you engaged with Katerina’s performance and the play as a whole. I especially like how the music and props were interwoven with the acting to create Eftihia’s reality.

I left the theatre wanting more of Eftihia, so I will be moving onto watching the film next. One thing that was missing for me was I would have liked to see a scene of Eftihia playing cards with a group of men, and how she would have interacted. This is because I feel that for her time, Eftihia was a feminist. She divorced from her husband and lived life her way – no apologies. Also, I have mixed feelings about the decision to program a Greek trilogy with only one week per show. As we can see now, many people who would really enjoy this show will miss out. One week was not enough, and having to stage three shows over three weeks, is a big ask for any producer, let alone one who also wrote the plays, and is acting in one of them. I would have preferred if one was programmed (Eftihia), to give it the time and attention it deserves, and to allow it to reach the audiences it needs to reach.

– Koraly

Koraly Dimitraidis is a Cypriot-Australian poet, writer and performer and the author of Love and F—k Poems, Just Give Me The Pills and She’s Not Normal. Her theatre show “I say the wrong things all the time” premiered at La Mama in 2016.

“Eftihia – Life Has Two Doors” runs 14th – 18th & 25th February and La Mama Courthouse Theatre, Carlton. “Taxithi  – The Long Journey” Home runs 21st – February. Book tickets here.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of La Mama Theatre

Photo credit: Darren Gill