NINA RAPI'S THEATRE,
- Menelaos Karantzas, Dramaturg - Theatre Director
Nina Rapi is one of the very few Greek playwrights whose writing pursuits commenced abroad. Her works include 18 plays written within the last 25 years and with only one exception they have all been presented successfully on various theatrical stages. Almost all of her plays are written in English and have been staged in London venues. Some of her plays have been translated into Greek and one of them, Edgewise, was presented during the Readings Festival of the National Theatre of Greece in 2010. Rapi has recently started writing plays in Greek, but still the latter keep returning to London: Wild Beats, originally written in Greek, was presented there translated into English. Despite the fact that she masters both languages as her writings can evince, she prefers her plays to be translated by others maybe because in doing so she avoids the temptation of adapting them in a way that might alter her intensely personal style which is distinct in each language. As she has clarified in an interview, “Writing wise, my style has always been characterised by at least two styles; engaged and realistic (which I associate with Greece) or detached and stylised (which I associate with London).”
Rapi began writing around the end of the ‘80s and as it has happened with many playwrights she started out with short stories. Her studies in Sociology and her postgraduate degree in Drama have obviously formed the technical and theoretical groundwork for her plays, but still the creative urge and artistic value of her plays are intrinsically associated with her personal life story. She confesses that her relation with theatre had been almost non-existent until she came across the theatre of Samuel Beckett, Heiner Muller, Harold Pinter and Howard Barker; her contact with their texts and the performances of their plays in conjunction with her inner need for expressing certain views and ideas which originated from her choices and spiritual/mental pursuits, urged her to start writing and to switch very quickly from short stories to playwrighting.
However, it’s not only language that has a direct effect on the form and the aesthetics of Nina Rapi’s plays; the realities they describe and the worlds they refer to can also be classified into two separate poles that influence differently the core of her plays. On the one hand, most of the plays that deal with British reality are rather ironic and make more use of deconstructive and distancing techniques; on the other, the plays based on Greek reality are more emotionally engaging, they usually maintain a linear narrative and focus on the quest for some kind of truth. Whatever the realities that her plays represent, however, the basic axes around which they rotate are the same and in most cases they combine certain external stimuli with relevant personal and internal circumstances, which have usually been very intense. The main theme in the majority of her plays is the exploration of the nature of the outsider. Because for Nina Rapi, who has experienced herself as an outsider from the age of two, this term involves living on the edge of things, being different, observing and not really belonging anywhere 100%. It is apparent that observing from a distance is what fascinates her and urges her in writing her plays, while the feeling that there are borders and that there are consequences if violated is always present and occasionally very pressing for the characters in her plays. It must be noted that the word “edge” and its derivatives are very common in many of her plays either as part of a title, or as a characterisation of circumstances, or in the lines of a character. Although Rapi pushes her characters towards physical boundaries and also to their own limits, she feels unconditional love for them and it is always some kind of love that is offered as a solution or even the only solution. This love that the playwright describes and permeates her plays is absolute, often sexual and in many cases difficult, but it is often compelling or fatal.
Nina Rapi signifies boundaries and the area beyond them based on the various life experiences that she possesses. For those familiar with her life story, it is easy to draw conclusions regarding the abundance of experiential references in her plays. She originates from Argos Orestiko, a small town at the north-west of Greece and very close to the physical borders of the country, where incidents with illegal immigrants and border crossing are part of everyday life; this fact has clearly influenced many dramatic situations in her plays whose action takes place in border areas and it becomes more obvious in their stage directions and in the back stories she provides for her characters. Her living in London for many years and her resultant feeling of being a foreigner is often reflected on the traumatised psyche of some of her characters and it usually explains her active ―even extreme one might say― political views and social screams of her heroes. Finally, the fact that as far as her sexuality is concerned she belongs to a minority group leads her to find various ways to express the voice of this group; thus queers and persons without clearly defined gender are often among the characters of her plays.
Next to the love that Rapi has for the exploration of edges, a new type of questioning has arisen ―and it is particularly evident in her latest plays, the trilogy Angelstate, Reasons to Hide and Kiss the Shadow― that concerns confinement, surveillance, authoritarian control and its enforcement, together with any resistance these phenomena could provoke. The playwright has now decided to become more erudite in the political field and to fight against specific targets; it is also of high significance the fact that this decision coincides with her turn to Greek language in her writing.
What is also characteristic about her plays is their relation to music: Rapi is very specific about her choices for the music that accompanies and underscores her plays and thus readers who are familiar with her music references could enjoy hearing the plays in their minds as well as seeing them when they read them. The author’s life story can also be traced as source here: she was a founding member of a rock band before she turned to theatre and this explains why her music and song choices are so successful in clarifying meanings and emotions in her plays.
For a theatre director who may want to stage one of her plays, Rapi has some surprises. When you first read them, the plays seem to be ready to be transferred to the stage since the detailed stage directions and the exhaustive descriptions of the characters’ back stories imply that everything has been accounted for and that the playwright has written down on paper the extremely clear image she had in her mind. This might very well be the case. Still, there’s a lot to be explored along the route from page to stage and the task involves a lot of work. Because Rapi, without trying to set any traps to her collaborators, is only as explicatory as needed and offers only those details that are necessary for the basic understanding of her characters. This means that there’s plenty hidden underneath and she allows, if not leads, her collaborators (actors, director, designer) to go deep and work creatively in order to discover the full dynamics of her characters, using her script only as a motivational starting point. What seems clear in the beginning usually exposes a great variety of perspectives. It is Nina Rapi’s skillful artistry and technique that make her plays at first enjoyable to read and then turn them into powerful and vivid pieces of theatre when a creative team analyses them and presents them on stage.