Guiness Theatre, The Substation
7-8 January 2009
Part of the M1 Singapore Fringe festival
Who would’ve thought a handmade rug could transport us to a rural village in Greece? Thomas Papathanassiou does just that. His astounding one man show, Looming the Memory, is a memoir that draws on the theme of identity, family, heritage, and home – things that are close to the hearts of people in immigrant countries such as Singapore.
The stage is bare but for a rug rolled on the floor. The play opens with childhood memories: an old woman at her loom, weaving strips of garment of a deceased relative – weaving the memories. As the play unfolds and the rug unrolls, snippets of memories are brought to life, one interwoven with the other.
Thomas Papathanassiou’s parents migrated from Greece to Australia, leaving all their relatives behind. Papathanassiou spent part of his childhood in Greece and he tries to explore his own family history through stories told by relatives and neighbours during his visits to Greece many years later. He discovers untold grudges, connections, and stories through his conversations with people from his childhood. It’s his struggle to understand where he actually belongs, as with many migrant children who never feel they fully belong to one place.
Papathanassiou plays eighteen characters that makes up episodes of the story, including grandmothers, uncles, neighbors, himself and a chicken, very effectively – even when they are conversing between themselves. With just the slightest change in posture or expression we can easily identify the character he’s become. The transition between characters are done seamlessly, making it look almost effortless.
With his powerful emotions and effective story-telling, we are taken through a crowded market, rows of fig trees, an old school building, just as if we are walking with the characters themselves. We can feel the festivity of a dance, the blue skies and warm sun of a Greek summer, and the commotion of a village fire.
As we leave Greece, the rug is rolled up and the characters were flashed once again in rapid succession without Papathanassiou ever losing one bit of control or intensity. The phrase uttered at the end reverberates with me: it is a difficult thing to have your heart in two places. This journey of self-discovery asks us to question ourselves how family and culture has shaped us to who we are.
Looming the Memory is a very personal and intimate storytelling that grabs the audience’s attention right from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end.
Thomas Papathanassiou trained in Curtin University (Theatre / Literature), WAAPA (Music Theatre), and VCA (Grad. Dip. in Animateuring – Performace Creation). He is an actor, writer, choreographer, dramaturge, and theatre-maker. Looming the Memory won Best Actor (2006 Perth Theatre Trust Equity Guild Awards) and Best Production (2007 Blue Room Theatre Awards)