YIANNIS XANTHOULIS’ THEATRE,
[Translation: Elina Palaska]
Yiannis Xanthoulis is an imaginative, whimsical, funny writer of books for children and grown-ups. His works for kids are an imaginative trip towards everyday life and our lives, and it is placed within the realm of reality and beyond it, as well. Through dreamlike qualities and through madness, twists, magical qualities and humor, Xanthoulis attempts to make kids puzzle over everyday life and the future. He aims to waken them and help them develop a critical standpoint over everything that surrounds them and forms their micro world: their home, their hometown and country, themselves, the other children, their people and the others.
Every book is different than the others, it is an opening of the imagination, where physical laws act within a different kind of freedom, as the writer holds his words as "weapons" of peace, an uplift of the imagination, an agitation of the stereotypes, ideas, reactions and the pointless social obligations. The playwright holds the ability, with his game of words and meanings, to help the children discover their world and how that worlds works. Help them define themselves within this world, as parts of nature and society, to comprehend the power they hold, a power that can unite with other powers and change life and the world.
His critique is aimed towards human relations, power relations within and outside the family: school and society, the media, the resources management, how we face the environment. The writer focuses throughout his entire work on the improvement of the quality of life that the young and old have to bring on: we all should become magicians, so we can change our lives.
His words aim to inspire children, to awaken them, so they can become active citizens. His writings are distinguished for their playful tone, as well as the freedom they promote, while they are full of humor and constant witticisms.
Animism, i.e. faith that every natural phenomenon, every object, universe itself have a soul, is obvious throughout his works and it reflects upon the child's psychology: the heater talks, the elevator screams, the pot speaks to its neighbors, a society of fish with experience.
The contrasts of life along with the twist of attitudes are found often in his texts, in which we encounter the dog with his friend, the cat, while everyone tries to separate them.
His topics are rich. Addressing topics of modern age, modern development of the civilization and society, he pursues edification and sets terms for a life within cement, while at the same time he offers the child stimulus to ponder upon society, civilization and money. He is concerned with the utilization of time for children, and he often mentions good and substantial deeds. He seeks to find a counterweight for modern difficulties in dreams, paints and madness.
He tries to sensitize the audience firstly to environmental issues, such as air pollution, environment, cleanliness, order. He highlights the value of sun for life, the beauty and nature. He underlines the need for green, for tree planting and for the creation of gardens of vegetables so that the city can breath and for the balanced diet of the kids. At the same time he concerns himself with the animal and vegetable world, since his heroes are mostly natural creatures.
He often poses questions regarding social matters. He mentions poverty, hunger, infelicities and problems. He also deals with matters that refer to the human relationships, such as marriage and coexistence: and when the pan wants to get married ... what are you thinking, I ask him, these are not the times for marriage. He has the directness to not beautify situations, quite the contrary; he often mentions the difficulties some situations entail. He suggests there should be marriages and relationships between different characters, the swallow and the chicken. In a witty way he presents this coexistence along with its positives: any feathers and any eggs I have, I offer to you, my sweet swallow, I shall keep him warm and feed him omelets every day.
These social matters reach even the workers' rights, like for example in the case of the elevator song, as the elevator works every day, all day long. He deals with violence, war, love, friendship, and the values of life. At the same time he is concerned with animal abuse (all fur coats are banned) and he objects to the caging of animals. He mentions free healthcare, free food for everyone, the creation of playgrounds, concepts that refer to economics, and he criticizes money and everything done for its sake, while he admits it is a motivational force.
He faces culture and the development of Athens into a cement city with a critical eye. Its extreme reconstruction disappoints him and he refuses to accept apartment buildings as a suitable place of living: the situations that just happen, that even I would have to live in an apartment building.
Madness and imagination run through his works. He reckons imagination constitutes an solution to the coexistence of beings and society. Madness, the non-rational, is a solution so as one can cope with life. Reinstatement to the world of logic is but a "deforestation" of the world: with no imagination it is as if there is no life and air. Of course, madness is but a sweet candy that soon melts, so it has to be treated as a temporary solution and not as a permanent reaction to problematic situations.
Dreams have a particular gravity in his work, and they can purify reality. When dreams come true on the first floor of the apartment building, the tenants leave, they cannot take it, and the sun and the moon come out.
Air is an important element in his narratives. The winds aid the treatment of evil feeling, they cast away the sorrow and carry new ideas.
Art and expression play an important role in life: paint, so that you can change life. Painting offers a way out of the madness and mutates reality: with pencils, paints and dyes, we fight colorfully on the trenches. Colors can make children feel lovely as crazy-dye is dream and hope.
To name his characters he employs many ways: sweets, vegetables and food name streets (Eggplant street, Squash street, Radish street, Queen Cabbage street), couples usually share the same name, or names that are connected somehow (Mr. and Mrs. Adelaide, Mrs. Crookedleg and Mr. Crookedhand).
A character may be mentioned by his name, but often his father's and mother's name follow: Wizard Garlicflour, born to Garlicxander and Garlicrumormonger Garliccookie. The objects or the construction materials or the beings that live within the fairytale form names: Mrs. Potson, Mr. Cementson, General Eightfeet. Other names are inspired by the objects' or the characters' qualities: elevator, Jimmy Upanddownson, the Plugplug family, songmachine. A name can be an entire sentence, to which the writer was lead through stream of consciousness or word play: Mr. Von Richter-swing-back-and-forth.
In his writings there are many compound word and many neologisms (elevatorjacking, garbagemuseums, cementcompassion) while sometimes he compounds three or four words, tincandopecunning.
His expressions may be peculiar, may refer to other expressions, and he uses them in a different way or he uses the by association: Let it snow on our apartment building (Let it Snow), Richter Von-swing-back-and-forth, incontinence of kindness, Red Riding Hood Airlines, in the name of deus ex machina, he studied at the Upper Wizard School. His word plays are a constant ingenious finding: C.F.M. (Chip Flavor Magnificent), President of Sea Bass Reign, Seawide Cod Movement.
There are many and constant twists: Red Riding Hood was freed and married the Woodsman.
He uses weather to speak of air pollution: On the apartment building penthouse the temperature was at -40 C and the tenant was dressed as an Eskimo. Temperature affects the characters mood, as they realize the catastrophe they have brought about. Through the weather difficulties, to ensure their survival, they are lead to love and offering.
The magical element is found throughout his writings. Vagelakis, the genie, a supernatural creature that has the ability to change his appearance and become human or animal. We find it researching 1427 houses to find out whether people have are in good spirits or not.
Yiannis Xanthoulis' work is intertemporal. Today, more than any other time, we need "Drum, Trumpet and Red Bonbon." We wonder where the "Wizard with colors" is, so that he can ask us to "Climb on the roof and eat clouds." We need him to allow us to dream and to comfort us. We want to become active citizens, we want to change the world, as Yiannis Xanthoulis dreamed and wrote.