GIORGOS NEOPHYTOU'S THEATRE,
- Andri H. Constantinou, Dramaturg, Professor Frederick University - Nicosia
[Translation: Elena Delliou]
Giorgos Neophytou is an evidently a political playwright. The thematic axis of his works is connected with Cyprus’ political history, and more specifically with the contemporary reality of post-war Cyprus; the local community as modeled after the landmark date of 1974.
He emerged at the theatre in 1984, ten years after the decisive events, and five of his six plays that have been either staged or presented on TV –the one-act plays Ena kyriakatiko sketch (A Sunday Radio Play) (1984), Mia aeropeiratia (A Hijacking) (1984), Manoli...! (1987) and Full meze (Full Course Mezes) (1989), and later DNA (2010)− grapple with the trauma and reflect on the changes that the coup, the invasion and its consequences brought to the island’s community. His play Stis Kyprou to vasileio (In the Kingdom of Cyprus) (1987) has Cyprus’ medieval history as its starting point and draws parallels to the island’s political and social reality during the period the play was written. Neophytou has also written the revues I allagi (The Change) (1988), I Kypros einai… iki (Cyprus is part of…) (1991) and, in collaboration with Ricardo Lopez, the stage chronicle Katathesi Mnimis (Memory Testimony) (1984). He also authored the dramatic text of the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC) Peri erotos kai allon tinon (On Love and Other Matters) (1998), which was based on works and songs of Bertolt Brecht, as well as scripts for the television, and has translated plays from German.
Having studied in Germany and with an active interest in Brecht, the author's intent to trigger reflection over contemporary political and social issues through his plays is evident. A perceptive observer of the social landscape and prevailing attitudes, he does not hesitate to expose the political taboos of the Cypriot society. Through his dialectical look at history and his satirical power, Giorgos Neophytou attempts to present the Cypriot society naked, in order to evince its distortions. His plays are mostly placed on a realistic basis, and the plots draw from the recognizable day-to-day life in the island. Some –or parts– of his plays are written in Standard Modern Greek, while at times they theatrically reproduce the contemporary, colloquial Greek-Cypriot dialect.
Satire is a key element in his plays, but only the plays In the Kingdom of Cyprus –with elements of the revue genre– and the one-act A Hijacking –where the author resorts to comical exaggeration to reveal the worldly excesses of the upstart class– lead to comedy. The satire in the one-act plays A Sunday Radio Play and Full Course Mezes is bitter, while his monologue Manolis...! is dramatic, with the playwright, however, maintaining his sense of humor. DNA is also dramatic, with lyricism present in the main protagonist’s –the missing man’s wife– expression of pain. The latter two plays are written in Standard Modern Greek.
His background and the way Neophytou handles his material render him a political playwright in the broadest and not the militant sense. This aspect does not remain only an intention, but is reflected in the stage communication and in distinctive features pertaining to the plays’ intake. The fact that the plays Memory Testimony and Cyprus is Part of… have not yet been staged may be due to them being considered provocative; the former refers to the events of 1974 and is a mash up, a kind of theatre-documentary that includes news texts and poems, including poems written by Turkish-Cypriots. The title of the latter play, which the author identifies as a “historical revue,” apparently refers to the shared slogan “Cyprus is Greek” and, respectively, “Cyprus is Turkish” that was used by political parties before and after the island’s Independence in 1960.
The writer’s notable early one-act plays A Sunday Radio Play and A Hijacking –which could be staged as a double bill– were screened on national television but were not honored by professional theatre. A Sunday Radio Play comments on the radio show "Cypriot sketch” (short radio plays belonging to the local genre of ethographia) broadcasted by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (RIK). The show was first broadcasted in the 1950s and is still on the air, with recurring themes and codes. Neophytou’s play touches on the possibility that the missing persons may not return. A Hijacking outlines the prosperity enjoyed by a part of society only a few years after the displacement of a large portion of the population, taking advantage of the housing projects carried out for the creation of a so-called "comfortable temporality."
The fact that the professional theater disregarded those plays may be attributed to some opposition in the press, due probably to the fact that they deal with questions that society back then did not dare discuss openly. Probably, then, the theatre groups of the time considered these works provocative or disturbing. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning here that only a few Cypriot plays have been staged in multiple productions.
His plays In the Kingdom of Cyprus smoother path –presented at the Nicosia Festival in 1987– and Full Course Mezes –produced by THOC in 1989– had a much smoother ride. The former, as mentioned before, is a satire of the modern Cypriot society dressed in a historical garment, where the island’s conquerors succeed each other, increasingly cornering the local people onstage. These people also witness the dispute over the ownership and exploitation of their country among the transient strong and mighty. The text –at times in verse and rhyming and others in prose– is interspersed by lyrics written over music taken from the Cypriot folk tradition. In the one-act play Full Course Mezes, the protagonists are three friends, former classmates in Athens, who are having fun while enjoying a rich variety of snacks, at a tavern near the Green line border and the outposts in Nicosia. Their comfortable way of life is outlined and, as they are making plans for real estate transactions, a soldier is shot a few meters down the way. Each person reacts differently to this event.
After a slow start, the –provocative for its era– monologue Manoli...! had a rich and impressive course, and has emerged as the playwright’s most frequently performed work. It is also a Cypriot play that has transcended the local boundaries, and with it Neophytouu has presented Cyprus’ theatre with a little gem. The only character of the play is an old woman who narrates the dramatic events of her life to her silent company; her cat. Her only son was killed in the 1974 coup and the (known) culprits remain unpunished. This one-act play was first staged by the Cypriot community in London, the Art Theatre, in 1987. In Cyprus it was first produced for television by RIK in 1988, in an exceptional, minimal production, and subsequently staged by THOC in 1990. The latter production was also presented in Athens, where both the text and Despina Bebedeli’s performance won flattering reviews. Thereafter, the monologue, adapted to chamber opera by composer Vassos Argyridis, was presented in a number of German cities. More productions followed.
Two decades after his strong presence during the 1980s, Neophytou returned in the late 2000s, having entered a new period in his writing: DNA –which has already had a dynamic course on stage, produced by Satiriko Theatre in Nicosia in 2010– features the wife (who turns out to be the widow) and son of a missing man as the main characters. The mother is nostalgic and remains hopeful, while the young man wants to find out what has happened to his father, and be redeemed from the past. Meanwhile, in the course of the play bones are identified through the method of DNA, as ones that belong to the missing husband and father of the family. Beyond the political references, noticeable in the play is the existential dimension; this woman’s desperation and lament not only for the beloved husband she lost but also for her own life wasted in waiting and expectation, fostered by official policy on this sensitive humanitarian issue. The play received the THOC’s Theatre Award in the playwriting category, for the biennium 2009-2011.
The "musical work" as its author characterizes it, Why is Mona Lisa Laughing is a mash up of poetry and prose by Kurt Tucholsky and Erich Kästner, translated from German by the playwright himself and Nitsa Neophytou.
With his play BOOM!, staged in Nicosia in 2015 from the theatre group Adjacent Productions, Neophytou returns to the code of (bitter) comedy. In this work, the main characters are a Greek-Cypriot and a Turkish-Cypriot, who are trying to communicate without being aware of each other's identity; they have temporarily lost their hearing following a landmine explosion in the buffer zone. The author draws attention to a very important facet of modern history which is the relations between the two largest communities of the island, hearkening the historical moment and remaining highly political.
 Extensive reference to the reception of Neophytou’s work can be found in the author’s essay "The playwright George Neophytou" (p. 9-51) in Giorgos Neophytou, Plays, published by Aneu Publications in 2010, where a detailed bibliography and production timeline is included.