Sunday, October 31, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord in the Bible. When He said that, the Lord may not have had Medea in mind. The vengeance she wreaks on her husband Jason goes beyond what most people can even imagine.

            In 431 BC Euripides submitted his Medea to the City Dionysia dramatic competition in Athens and his play came in third. It has become one of the most frequently produced Greek tragedies and has been adapted numerous times. Ben Power wrote an adaptation for the National Theatre of Britain in 2014 and the production was filmed and is now available for streaming.

            Carrie Cracknell directed a brilliant staging that brings out much of the power of Euripides’ tragedy enhanced by Power’s additions. Medea is a play about treachery and vengeance, about merciless murder and, worst of all, infanticide committed by a mother to punish her husband.

        The complex role of Medea is handled by Helen McCrory in a bravura performance of extraordinary force. Medea betrayed her father and murdered her brother to enable Jason to steal the Golden Fleece from the “barbaric” city of Colchis. She fell in love with Jason and dedicated her life to him. He threw her over for another woman, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth.

                                                        Helen McCrory as Medea

McCrory needs to express the gamut of emotions that Medea goes through. Her love for Jason turns into passionate hatred. She wants revenge. She has to cajole, plead and beg King Creon to let her stay in Corinth for a day. Her fury, hatred and vengefulness so well displayed by McCrory must be tempered with cunning for her to achieve her objective. She manipulates everyone around her and McCrory delivers every nuance of the complex character to perfection.

Danny Sapani’s Jason is man whose success in stealing the Golden Fleece was based on treachery and murder committed by Medea. Now it is he who commits similar moral crimes by abandoning Medea to marry the king’s daughter. It is for selfish reasons alone. He may have been brave but he is not particularly bright in his understanding of Medea’s character. He brings her a cheque and thinks she will appreciate what he is doing.

Clemmie Sveaas does a fine job as Creon, King of Corinth. He is a no-nonsense ruler who is afraid of Medea and simply wants to get rid of her. Tough as he is, Medea gets around him and commits her crimes.

Dominic Rowan as Aegeus, King of Athens, is a likeable, decent man who wants to help Medea escape from Corinth. He wants to have children and Medea promises to help him using her magical powers. However, she does not take any chances even with an affable friend and makes him swear to protect her.

The Nurse played well by Michaela Coel is the storyteller of the play but Power has provided her with some pedestrian prose that does not work particularly well.

Cracknell makes judicial use of the Chorus of Corinthian Women. Their number of lines are reduced but some are spoken and sung with music composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. There are several effective dance sequences choreographed by Lucy Guerin.

The single set by Tom Scutt consists of a living space for the main action and a raised level for some glimpses of events in Creon’s palace. Power and Cracknell emphasize the domestic side of the play but she does live at what looks like the edge of a forest. We see Medea’s children playing with toys, riding a tricycle and running to greet their father. In the end we see Medea dragging their dead bodies, wrapped in blankets onto the stage.

Power created a final scene of his own for Medea. The Chorus chants a brief dirge and Medea walks off the stage. I will not disclose any more details because the scene is worth seeing without foreknowledge. It is magnificent.


Medea by Euripides in a version by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell for the National Theatre in 2014 is available for streaming at

Thursday, October 28, 2021


 Reviewed by James Karas

In the production of Sophocles’ Antigone under review, Director Polly Findlay adds a prologue that becomes clear after a few minutes into the  play. The curtain opens on a large, dark office where people are running around, passing messages and in the end huddle around a screen. Something terribly important is happening.

We know we are in Thebes and a civil war is raging. We know that Eteocles and Polyneices, the sons of the late King Oedipus are fighting on opposite sides and both are killed. Their uncle Creon is the winner, supported by Eteocles and Polyneices is on the losing side and is considered a traitor. This is background information and we are or should be aware of it but all we see is the commotion in the offices.

The play proper begins when Antigone and Ismene, Oedipus’ daughters, appear and discuss Creon’s orders that Eteocles be buried with honours but Polyneices the traitor be left unburied to be eaten by the dogs. Antigone has decided to defy her uncle’s edict and intends to follow higher laws and bury her brother.

This is a taut, dramatic and moving production done in modern dress. Antigone and Ismene appear before a dark wall of the revolving stage of the National Theatre in London and the rest of the play is set in the palace offices that we saw in the opening scene. Set Designer Soutra Gilmour and Lighting designer Mark Henderson emphasize darkness with only the area of the actors being lit. 

Christopher Ecclestone and Jodie Whittaker 

Jodie Whittaker gives a powerful and passionate performance as Antigone. In a cockney accent she states her decision to bury her brother in uncompromising terms. The higher morality of the gods and the duty of a sister cannot be countermanded by a human being even if he is a kin.

Christopher Eccleston’s Creon is confident, controlling, arrogant, a king as of right and a defender of the state. Like all tyrants, he is convinced that he is defending the state, he is working for the good of the people. He is also paranoid and demands absolute loyalty from all including family members. He dismisses Antigone and her sister as neurotics or lunatics. Eccleston gives an outstanding performance in the role.

Creon’s son Haemon (Luke Newberry) is the voice of reason trying to persuade his father to act sanely. He is unsuccessful with tragic results.

A far more compelling voice is provided by the blind prophet Tiresias. Jamie Ballard gives a superb performance. Tiresias looks unkempt with a hideous face and a head full of scales or scabs as he warns Creon of tragic consequences if he persists in his desire to destroy Antigone. Creon realizes his grotesque errors but if is too late.

Notably fine performances are given by Luke Norris as the frightened soldier who delivers the news of the illegal burial of Polyneices and Kobna Holdbrook-Smitth as the messenger who delivers the news of the fate of Antigone and Haemon.

Findlay judiciously introduces Creon’s wife Eurydice (Zoe Aldrich) and Haemon at the beginning of the play when we first see Creon. The three stand momentarily for a photo shot and we realize who they are. They both appear much later in the play but seeing them at the start is a shrewd move by the director.

The handling of the Chorus is always an issue in a production of Greek tragedy. Don Taylor in his version of the play allocates the lines of the Chorus among the officials working in the palace offices. They are in fact the Chorus. There is no chanting and the choral odes and speeches are spoken by various members without any awkwardness.

Findlay’s adroit directing gives us a cohesive and taut drama that flows superbly. Sophocles’ play becomes a modern parable about dictatorship and freedom that can be applied to current tyrannical regimes. There is no awkwardness with the presentation of the Chorus and we get an excellent production streamed to our home._____________________

Antigone by Sophocles in a version by Don Taylor William, recorded at the National Theatre in 2012, is available from the National Theatre at

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


By James Karas  

The first Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT) took place between October 1 and 4, 2021. It featured full-length films and shorts at the Canada Square Theatre at Yonge and Eglinton and streamed many of them. It had some glitches but the fact that it happened at all deserves a tip of the hat.

I saw three films in the theatre and streamed one to my television set. The results ranged from the exceptional to the incomprehensible. Here are my observations.


Eftihia is a superb film directed by Angelos Frantzis about the life of lyricist Eftihia Papagianopoulou. She led a dramatic and tragic life (1893-1972) writing the lyrics for some of the best-known Greek songs but she has remained largely unknown. She provided some of the most famous composers with lyrics including Vassilis Tsitsanis, Manos Hadzidakis, Apostolos Kaldaras and Manolis Chiotis. Most Greeks recognise Ta kavourakia, Dyo portes ehei i zoi, Eimai aetos horis ftera and Perasmenes mou agapes without knowing that Papagianopoulou wrote the lyrics for them.

She scribbled lyrics on small pieces of paper and sold them to the composers for a few hundred drachmas and took no steps to protect her copyright. It is unknown how many songs she wrote but one partial listing of her lyrics lists 220.

Frantzis’ film covers Eftihia’s life from 1922 and the chaotic escape from Smyrna during the Asia Minor Catastrophe to the end of her eventful life.  He uses two fine actors to represent her as a young woman (Katia Goulioni) and in her old age (Karyofyllia Karabeti). They do masterly portrayals of the gutsy, humorous, chain-smoking and humane Eftihia who can write lyrics but cannot manage money.

That is putting it mildly because Eftihia was a compulsive and addicted gambler who lost most of what she made playing cards and at one point was climbing down a ladder at night to join gambling groups. She was chased by loan sharks, thrown out by landlords and even sold her policeman husband’s uniform to feed her addiction.

Notable performances are given by Pigmalion Dadakaridis as her second husband Giorgos, Dina Michailidou as her mother, Thanos Tokakis as a homosexual friend who is both sympathetic and hilarious.

Frantzis directs a large cast brilliantly and my only note is that there is not enough information about location. I want to see where the action takes place with greater detail than Frantzis provides. But that is a minor matter in an otherwise superb film.


On a dark and stormy night someone lurks around and enters a large mansion situated on the top of a mountain. Anne (Tess Spentzos), a beautiful blonde woman in a sexy nightgown, is terrified by the presence of a masked stranger in her house (Aris Athan). He finds her, brutally rapes her and ties her with ropes. The stranger proceeds to open the safe and grab a big stash of cash. She manages to free herself from the ropes and smashes the intruder with a golf club. Now we have many questions to to unravel.

Her cool, psychiatrist husband (Peter Gerald) comes home and he tells her that nothing really happened. She is mentally ill and did not take her pills that morning and imagined everything. The intruder is still in the house.

The plot proceeds with many twists and turns and acts of violence. The audience at the Canada Square Cinema (fewer than 100 because of Covid-19 restrictions) is not enthralled and they start leaving the theatre in noticeable numbers. No, they are not going to the bathroom because no one returns.

Lurk was written and directed by Vassilis Katsikis and released in 2015 at the Horrorant Film Festival 'Fright Nights' in Greece. There may not have been too many horror film aficionados in the Canada Square Theatre and the happenings on that dark and stormy night were not appreciated.


God’s Fans is a 2016 film written, directed and produced by George Bakolas starring Roula Antonopoulou, George Iosifidis and Dafni Kafetzi. The storyline given on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website is as follows: The art of desiring what you can't live instead of doing the opposite. A film about people who fight to become someone else. I guess it means you should not desire what you can’t live by (why would you?) and you may fight to become someone else. Not like someone but someone else.

There may be a profound or logical meaning to the storyline but it escapes me. What’s more, I have no idea if it has any connection to the film.  

The film has a series of scenes involving an actor played by Roula Antonopoulou who is expecting a premiere of a play in the evening. But someone is preparing a rehearsal in the same place. These events are mentioned a number of times as the film moves through scenes that are confusing or meaningless or both. I tried to glean something, anything, from the movie but failed. 

No doubt Bakolas had something in mind when he wrote and directed the film and there are people who understood what he was after but I confess that I am not one of them.

There were streaks of light across the screen frequently and the edges showed different coloration. I doubt that it was intentional and it seems that whatever the film was stored in it has begun to deteriorate.

I could not find any reference to the film being ever being released.


Ten years ago, the incomparable Angelo Tsarouchas went to Athens, Greece to perform his comedy routines before a Greek audience. He had done that in venues around the world and returning to his ancestral “home” would seem like a cinch. But there were a couple nerve-wracking problems. Angelo does not speak Greek. Yes, he can carry on a simple conversation and understand a good deal of the language but perform his famous comedy routines in Greek?

Angelo Tsarouchas in Greece

The other problem was even more severe. Stand-up comedy has no foundation in Greece. A comic may perform for a few minutes but he is quickly supplanted by what the audience came for: bouzouki and singing.

He found that many Greeks, especially the young, speak English and the full house at the Michael Cacoyannis Institute in Athens not only understood what he said but roared with laughter. A good comedian can keep Greeks entertained in English and lack of stand-up comedy tradition be damned.

Tsarouchas’s performance was recorded and released in 2014 as A Night in Athens, directed by George Tsioutsioulas.

After that Tsioutsioulas decided to produce a wide-ranging documentary about Tsarouchas and the result was Back to Sparta which was shown on the last night of the GIFFT. The documentary was released in 2015 and provides some biographical information about Tsarouchas and gives an idea of his comedy as well as details of the preparation for the performance in Athens.

Tsarouchas has found humour in himself, his family and rich Greek cultural traditions that he manipulates into uproarious comedy. A Greek wedding, his parents, driving home with a lit candle after the midnight Easter liturgy, his weight, Greek sayings and much more have all proven fertile fields for comedy that crosses all social and ethnic boundaries. For example, his doctor tells him to lose 130 (out of his 350) pounds. He goes home and tells his girlfriend to get out but that does not solve the whole problem - he still has ten pounds to go. He is simply hilarious.

Back to Sparta includes a visit to Tsarouchas’s ancestral home in the village of Dafni. It is moving and funny. Most immigrants have a special attachment to their place of origin which almost invariably becomes dilapidated but going there is a sentimental journey that leaves one in tears.

The documentary is informative, perceptive and entertaining but I had difficulty with one aspect of it. Most of the show is taken up with the angst and preparation for the performance in the Cacoyannis Institute. Tsarouchas has a lot to be nervous about. Will anyone come? How many will understand me? Will they get the jokes?

The show was a success but we did not get to see even a single minute of it. Even though the performance was shown in A Night in Athens, a few minutes of the comedy should have been shown. It was like listening to someone tell a joke that he stops before delivering the punch line. I went home after seeing the documentary and turned on YouTube to see several segments of the performance.


The above-noted films were streamed or shown at the Famous Players Canada Square Theatre, 2190 Yonge Street (Yonge & Eglinton), Toronto from October 1 to 4, 2021 as part of the Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT).

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the newspaper.

Friday, October 1, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

The Blyth Festival faced the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic with lumber, nails, screws and a lot of community support. They could not produce any plays indoors so they built an outdoor theatre on a sprawling lawn at the edge of the village. Inclement weather meant cancellation of some performances but there were far more fair-weather than rain-drenched days. You had to walk a few hundred yards on a gravel road to the Harvest Stage on Gypsy Lane but you were warned to leave your high heels behind.

This season they produced five one-actor shows  of about one hour each to run between August 11 and October 3, 2021. I saw Jewel by Joan MacLeod, her first play, which originally premiered in 1987 at the Tarragon Theatre. In the Blyth Festival production,   Rebecca Auerbach plays Marjorie Clifford, directed judiciously by J.D. Nicholsen.

Jewel is a love story that has a tragic result but ends on a note of hope. The backdrop for the plot is the sinking of the mammoth Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland on Valentine’s  Day 1982. All 84 people on board perished.

Rebecca Auerbach in Jewel. Photo by Terry Manzo

Marjorie, a simple woman, tells us her life story beginning with memories of Valentine’s Days. When she was very young cutting out paper hearts to give to the most popular boy in primary school was an expression of nascent love. At age 15, one of her friends was described as mature meaning that she had big tits, smoked and was stupid.  In later teens, the girls discovered sleepovers, cigarettes and booze – lots of booze.

Marjorie is in rural Alberta and, however haltingly and amusingly, finds love and marries Harry. They have a farm but Harry goes away to work in the Alberta oil fields and Marjorie finds amusement with a friend whose husband is away frequently. And they drink.

Harry gets a job on the ill-fated rig, the Ocean Ranger, off the coast of Newfoundland and the couple looks forward to financial stability to be added to their loving relationship. The rig sinks on Valentine’s Day, the very date of years past that Marjorie recalled so fondly. The last she hears from Harry is a radio message broadcast on Valentine’s Day 1982, the day he died. He must have sent it in the day before.

Marjorie tries to deal with her loss and her grief. She talks to Harry as if he were still listening to her. She goes for grief counselling including a widows’ group run  by the Elks. She is told that being a widow is like checking into a motel for a night and staying there for the rest of  your life.

She imagines and relives Harry’s death on the rig. She tells us the minutiae of her daily existence. She comes to tentative terms with herself and removes her wedding ring from her finger, her jewel. Love proves to be stronger than grief but life must go on and the play ends on a positive note.

Auerbach is on stage for an hour relating all her experiences and memories from childhood into widowhood with all their permutations. She moves around the stage, drinks from a couple of beer bottles - hers and Harry’s – and listens to the radio for announcements and some music. The Valentine’s Day wishes are important for her, especially the last one.

She is engaging, moving and funny. It is a tough job and she does splendid work. The problem is that she is facing a socially-distanced, masked audience that, it seems to me, is seriously unresponsive. Maybe they laughed and cried under their masks but the theatre is a joint, communal experience not a private event. The production deserves a bigger and more responsive audience where every line of the play evokes a response.         

The Blyth Festival showed enormous gumption in scheduling a full season under conditions that would have frightened most theatrical producers in this Prohibition Era of Pandemic Abstinence.


Jewel by Joan MacLeod continues until October 3, 2021 at the Blyth Festival Harvest Stage, 377 Gypsy Lane, Blyth, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.