A conversation with Anastasia Revi

  •  Author: Karanatsis Christos
  •  Published on: 07/09/2014

A woman with a tone of voice that underlines both her creative passion and an inquisitive way of thinking, something that every artist owes to oneself.

This is, in a few words, Anastasia Revi, the artistic director of the London-based Theatre Lab Company, a group of talented individuals that has been theatrically active since 1997 and has showcased its work in a respectable number of festivals around the world.

Anastasia and I met through Skype. Her CV is full of many, quite familiar to a Greek, titles of work - Medea, Antigone, the Oresteia, Lysistrata- to mention just a few. My first question was one that one couldn’t avoid asking: How familiar is London's audience with the ancient Greek plays? What are her colleagues’ and spectators’ reaction to her numerous productions of ancient Greek tragedies and comedies?

"When we started working on ancient Greek plays in London, we realized that at least 50% of the audience who came to see our shows didn’t know the story behind Antigone, Medea, Orestes or Iphigenia. They had a pure at heart approach to the experience, an honest desire to discover, both the work of the Theatre Lab Company but also these classic theatrical texts. Under these circumstances, a different kind of communication is created between the audience and the artist. So what I saw was a real interest in these stories that have a life of 2,500 years but can still be presented in 2014, at the Riverside Studio, in an indoor theatre in London. This is quite a different condition from that of Epidaurus, for example, where most of us have somehow created an idea of how an ancient Greek play should be presented, and depending on the result we decide if we like a show or not, if it actually met our expectations."

Before I word my next question regarding the other 50% of London’s audiences’ reaction to ancient Greek plays, she offers the answer. "These are of course university professors, students who study theatre or go to drama school, those who have studied Classics or even students at A levels, where the ancient Greek world is part of their curriculum. However, even my actors, when they are invited to approach their roles, although they do it with respect, at the same time they remain open to any approach or desire to explore these plays".

 Anastasia then recounts the challenges and obstacles she encountered in this, undoubtedly difficult path, she has chosen. So what can she say about the ways someone promotes Greek culture and particularly its theatre, abroad?

Theatre Lab’s artistic director is a woman who sees no obstacles when she really wants to do something. She says that in England, as in all parts of the world there are people who talk the walk and people who walk the talk. She offers examples of famous theatrical groups who in their early years had no money and survived off practically nothing. These groups never used the excuse "we have no money so we will not do it".

But shouldn’t there be a way to secure that those involved in a theatre production will be paid for their work?

Anastasia explains that, for years, Theatre Lab’s members went by with money they collected from ticket selling and that the main arts funding organization in the UK, the Arts Council, will always ask you if you are going to put up a show even when you don’t have the money to.

Her argument is like hearing a voice telling me that the answer to “nothing” is organizing a “something” if you want to be noticed (by an audience, your colleagues, or prospective sponsors).

In 1997 the Theatre Lab Company was awarded the Hellenic Foundation prize for staging, the Greek play The Parade by playwright Loula Anagnostaki.

Anastasia’s narration becomes highly enjoyable. "During the '90s Greece’s cultural stigma abroad, was synonymous to three words: sex, souvlaki and syrtaki. We, as a group, had a crazy idea – I am personally excited by the unknown- to present this play which was written in the 60s in order to see how a foreign audience would react to something that had never been done before".

Since then, the artistic director of the Theatre Lab Company has worked on, at least, thirty plays by contemporary Greek playwrights as a director, producer, and translator or by organizing their reading. What is it that she feels may prevent texts by contemporary Greek playwrights from addressing a larger audience, other than just the Greek one?

"Some contemporary Greek plays are amazing" she says. "Some others do not have the verbal economy that, for example, the ancient Greek plays have. But then again we can’t compare the two. Some contemporary Greek theatrical texts suffer from what I call “a lust for words”, an attempt to over explain something through the use of language when they could just be more concise. Many foreign collaborators of mine have pointed this out, as well.

 Then there is the translation issue. We have frequently discovered errors and gaps in some of the translations of Modern Greek plays. So to avoid the actors underlining "but why does the writer say this again?" we need translators that have a very high level of knowledge regarding both languages, ​​and directors who will attempt solid interventions so that these plays can be staged abroad".

Just before a small break in our communication that followed due to some technical issues, Anastasia managed to point out the following: "If I organized a “theatrical season of contemporary Greek plays” today, one where I would be able to control and take solemn responsibility of, first of all I would personally check all the translations of the plays with their translators. I would speak to the playwrights and I’d ask them if they would be willing to revisit their work. So we could look at what we could possibly change, for the better. All this demands hard work and a complex-free exchange of ideas. And when I say work I mean when an actor says "I did what you asked me" it would be useful to ask him to repeat it. Sometimes you need this kind of strictness".

When our connection is restored out fully, Anastasia highlights an important need.

"We need to create open platforms and give constructive criticism on everything that is written for the theatre. We need to say to new playwrights "do more research and rewrite this" or "what you have created looks promising but you can do much better if you look more in you. Discover who you are”. This process, which we call feedback, can help you. Relationships between creative, artistic people are based on exchange. They are not power games between one who rules and one who obeys. Allow younger people to learn that if they fail, nothing’s wrong. They should just do it. If you fail, fail epic. And that’s where you can begin to start learning".

You can find out more about Anastasia Revi and her work by visiting the following sites.