Reviews Looking for love

Looking for love

There are so many reasons I want to love Irene Stephanou’s solo show, Searching for Somebody.

I confess my bias: I love the Greeks, and at least one Greek loves me. I’m crazy about visiting Greece, for its food, its beaches, its light, its smells and its people, both the living and the marble. I hate what is being done to the Greeks in Europe right now, for human, political and economic reasons. I want them to win. I would have voted Oxi.

Many Greeks have trekked to South Africa and worked their way into the heart of its economic and cultural life, shrugging off the contempt too often dished out to them. Among them, George Bizos was forced to flee the Nazi occupation. I once visited Vasilisi, the town where Bizos was born in the southern Peleponnese, where the locals called him “George Mandela”, in recognition of his role as Mandela’s lawyer.

Irene stephanou performs in her show, 'Searching for Somebody' in Grahamstown on  3 July 2015 at the 2015 national Arts Festival. The Show is centred around a manageress of a dry cleaners suffering from multiple sclerosi. (Photo: CuePix / Jeff stretton-Bell)

Irene stephanou performs in her show, ‘Searching for Somebody’ in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015 at the 2015 national Arts Festival. The Show is centred around a manageress of a dry cleaners suffering from multiple sclerosi. (Photo: CuePix / Jeff stretton-Bell)

Bizos said of Stephanou that “Aristophanes would have been proud,” in reference to the classical satirical playwright. In the 1980s, Stephanou contributed her comic talents to the death of apartheid, and subsequently ran “Theatre and Life” courses at the Market Laboratory.

“The biggest bombshell to burst on the Grahamstown Festival scene,” wrote Business Day in 1985, “is that tiny treasure chest of talent Irene Stephanou. As a mimic who has managed to capture South Africa’s colourful characters in her one-woman show, Irene is supreme.”

I invite the Greek that loves me to the show – Strato Copteros, the Fishwives’ large-than-life drummer. He needs a beer but little persuasion, having also been a Stephanou admirer in the 1980s.

Arriving, we have great expectations. But despite being on the Half Price Hut list, there are fewer than a baker’s dozen in the Old St Andrews Dining Hall: a disappointing start. In my experience playing to an empty hall can be hard work, and disheartening.

I appreciate but don’t love the performance. There are some great comic moments and many profound observations. Stephanou communicates her message about multiple sclerosis with plenty of pathos, maybe too much pathos. Her portrayal of Gabi is by turns passionate, angry, awkward, down, sarcastic and funny, but always very intense.

Gabi, as a character, is not entirely convincing. At times I am swept up, at other times the action drags too slowly and I’m hoping it will move on, or liven up. But mostly I’m searching for an actual story; something to grab my attention and hold it.

I leave the show knowing a lot more about multiple sclerosis, a little more about dry cleaning and a reminder about the horror of being on the receiving end of callous prejudice. I also leave disappointed. It’s OK that I didn’t enjoy it. I know that discomfort is often the best messenger. But I really wanted to love Stephanou’s latest show. Not just for old time’s sake but because I want to keep on being an admirer: she’s so much a part of where I come from that it’s as if admiring her is part of who I am.

Riding home after the show, I think that writing this review is likely to be even more slippery than the greasy, rain-soaked Grahamstown roads. But as I fall asleep, the play comes back to me and I’m pleased I went. I’m starting to really feel for Gabi.

Steve Kromberg
Cue specialist writer

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