An interview with Giorgos Lyras

  •  Author: Evangelidou Mirto
  •  Published on: 07/03/2015

                                                                                          [Translation: Katerina Gournaropoulou]

120 years after its writing in 1894, the play Vourkolakas, will be performed in Greece for the first time, under the direction of Giorgos Lyras. Vourkolakas is the only play ever written by poet and novelist Argyris Eftaliotis.

It is a theatrical text, whose theme was mainly inspired by folk legends and is, on a great extent, based on the Greek folk song The song of the dead brother. Eftaliotis’ name is strongly associated with the battle of Greek intellectuals who were in favor of the domination of Demotiki. (Demotiki or most commonly known as language of the people was the modern vernacular of the Greek language as opposed to Katharevousa, the official standard language of the Greek Nation.  The two complemented each other and lead to a situation of diglossia, until Demotiki was made the official language of Greece in 1976.) It is a play which is strongly connected with tradition, whose influence is depicted in a unique, modern manner. Using a language which is full of memories and sentiment and a style faithful to the movement of romanticism, the play is essentially a three-act tragedy.

The play takes us to the middle of nowhere, to a small community where our heroes live. A young woman, Areti, falls in love with a young man and wishes to marry him, but her brother, according to the customs and manners of their time and for economic reasons, opts for a more fitting match, a marriage with a wealthy merchant from Babylon. Faced with the inevitable, the Mother, in order to give her consent, asks her son to promise that if anything goes wrong, he will do anything to bring her daughter back home. The son accepts his mother’s condition and vows for the return of his sister. From that moment on, the play transcends the boundaries of realism and the characters are conflicted not with each other but with their own separate fates or, maybe, their wrong choices.

A few moments before the play’s premiere, we met Giorgos Lyras backstage; a “child” of the Art Theatre and assistant director of Stamatis Fasoulis for ten consecutive years. We wished to know why he chose Vourkolakas for his first ever directorial work; “Ever since I was young, I have a tendency to prefer any form of art that is not characterized by realistic narration. I obviously appreciate performances that highlight social concerns and tackle contemporary issues, such as political theatre, but my heart belongs to any form of theatre associated with myth.” Extremely fond of surrealistic storytelling and fantasy literature, Giorgos Lyras expressed his interest in one mythical creature in particular; the vampire, a creature that was called vlăkodlakă by the Slavs, vălkolàk by Bulgarians and Vourkolakas by the Greeks in the 19th century.

We also asked him to reveal a little more regarding the style of the performance; “After great effort and dedication, the actors and I struggled not to interfere with any moral elements expressed by the author, yet keeping all of the romantic elements intact in the performance. Those elements should not be confused or influenced by our own, modern understanding and perception of romanticism, but are strongly connected with the harsh side of romanticism. The literary movement of romanticism was characterized by an authoritative and absolute way of viewing reality. The romantic man will either get what he wants or will meet his death. If I cannot be with the woman I love, I must die. Any minor or everyday struggle is viewed as a great disaster. Feelings are overwhelming and get in the way of dealing with problems in a realistic way. Therefore, we have tried to work on the narrative of the performance, through a contemporary perspective, without defying our roots or our tradition, illuminating the romantic elements, the evocative atmosphere and attempted to release emotions in an attempt to restore Magic.”

He also highlights the actors’ effort to arrogate such an old form of language in their performance; “The verse of the text is not metrical as in The Shepherdess Lover, it’s not Katharevousa nor Demotiki; it is a mixture of both. It is a unique language form, full of sentiment and imagery. Therefore, the difficulty lies on how you respect it theatrically. This means that it is not enough to memorize your lines and utter them correctly, but to give life to the text. You respect a text when you manage to differentiate it from its written form. My greatest bet was to manage to work with the actors on that matter and help them towards this direction; to arrogate a long lost and remote language, so that the viewer will not feel alienated and can be convinced that their manner of speech on stage is no different from the one in their everyday life. That it is not simply something they had to memorize for a performance.”

While discussing the importance of folk myth in a society that defies tradition, Giorgos Lyras speaks enthusiastically about the analgesic function of myth, that has the power to comfort us for a couple of hours and bring us closer to our human nature, closer to our emotions. “We must turn to myth in order to live. After the Englightment and alienation from religion, when rationalism and science prevailed, people distanced themselves from the darkness of ignorance but at the same time distanced themselves from any magical side of their life. Everything became understandable and mundane, establishing a routine and monotony in their life. People are hardly touched, hardly laugh or express their emotions. Speaking as a viewer and not as someone who is involved with theatre, I have a need to watch a story in the cinema or the theatre, a story that will have the power to move me and make me laugh, even if it doesn’t touch upon certain tantalizing issues of my time, as long as it appeals to my emotions.”  

Shortly before our conversation reaches an end, we try to identify the moral message of the play, given that one actually exists. In our story, our heroes’ troubles and passions are a result of their compliance with social morality. They make wrong choices because they base them on the wishes of others. They never lived their lives the way they wanted and eventually they come face to face with a harsh punishment. Life comes to an end and our heroes realize that they didn’t manage to fulfill their desires. “Therefore, the message of the play is to try and urge us to pay greater attention to our relationships, to sentiment, to friendship, to love, to family, to our own lives and our self and prevent us from regretting the time that passed by and feel that we never lived it the way we wanted to.” Closing, he also feels the need to acknowledge and thank all the actors of the troupe and especially Nena Menti, who, in his words, is his personal anchor. “As the rehearsals go by, I realize that without this cast, the performance would not be the same. The performance was lifted by the actors and especially by Nena Menti, with whom I share a very special and instant artistic and human chemistry. I constantly learn from her and in every rehearsal she magnifies my own thinking on the play and theatre in general.” 


The play premiered on February 16th at the Apothiki Theatre.


Direction: Giorgos Lyras

Set designer: Margarita Chatziioannou

Costumes: Apollon Papatheoharis

Music: Giorgos Doussos

Light Design: Leuteris Paulopoulos

Assistant Director: Nikos Argyriadis

Cast: Nena Menti, Iliana Gaitani, Giota Kallini, Ilias Latsis, Amalia Ninou, Markos Papadokonstantakis, Dimitris Samolis