Taxithi – An Australian Odyssey
Taxithi is an enthralling homage to the wave of Greek migrants who arrived in Australia in the 1950’s and 60’s, in particular to those strong women who sailed here with heavy hearts and spent a lifetime yearning for their homeland, their loved ones and their Hellenic identity.
Helen Yotis Patterson has skilfully written a heartfelt piece of verbatim theatre and fused it with moving pieces of Greek folk music, or rebetika, which was popularised during the period that the Greek migrants become an indelible part of our Australian society.
The three performers, Helen Yotis Patterson, Maria Mercedes and Artemis Ionnides portray several women, all with a common story - they were displaced from their birth country and travelled to a land where they faced untold challenges; challenges of the sort that many of us will never experience. There were women who were sent into arranged marriages with strangers, women whose parents couldn’t afford to keep them, women who followed their men who had come to escape the abject poverty post WWII or the militarism of the coup in 1967.
The three performers seamlessly slip from one story to another, interspersing the storytelling with songs that carry much of the emotion of the piece. They are sung in Greek but for the English-speaking members of the audience that does not detract from the piece, for the raw emotion of the music transcends language. A glance around the room at the Mediterranean faces tells us all we need to know.
The women are skilled vocalists in their own right but together their harmonies bring a poignancy and richness to the songs that is ably supported by Andrew Patterson at the piano and Jacob Papadopoulos on the bazouki.
The minimalist set, incorporating five gauze panels, three chairs and three suitcases is skilfully used to great effect by director Petra Kalive. We imagine the women on wharves, sadly departing or apprehensively arriving, at work striving for a better or more peaceful future, or domestically as they build a new home or sit pensively embroidering, pondering their new life in a strange land.
This piece is not always a comfortable exploration of an important part of Australia’s migrant story. Indeed, it does beggar some difficult questions about our current migrant situation. However, Taxithi is ultimately a celebration of a culture that has given Australia so much, from cuisine, to festivals and dancing, from continental delis to the humble fish and chip shop. Greek migration has left an ineradicable mark on what it means to be an Australian in the 21st Century, and we as a nation are better for it.
Photographer: Sarah Walker