Broken Plates: far more than shards of pottery

Teaching them to dance: Renos Spanoudes (in a white shirt) gets his audience onstage, throwing plates and dancing. Photograph courtesy Buz Publicity

Teaching them to dance: Renos Spanoudes (in a white shirt) gets his audience onstage, throwing plates and dancing. Photograph courtesy Buz Publicity

In Ernest Hemingway’s treatise on bull-fighting, Death in the Afternoon, there is a fabulous cleaving of fact with fiction, leaving you not only mesmerised, but informed and entertained. Renos Spanoudes’s latest piece of theatre does exactly that, offering peeks into the complexity of Greek identity in South Africa as it gently blends a mix of history with tradition, spiced with explanation and scented heavily with the emotional baggage of the foreigner. It’s a beautiful production which will find you throwing plates with abandon and dancing like Zorba on the beach.

Spanoudes has crafted three characters – a proud father at the wedding of his daughter; an old woman who mourns; a school teacher who can cry in front of his students – and uses each of them to extrapolate on how the idea of broken plates reflects much more than shards of pottery or wasted crockery. It’s about acknowledging fullness in life.

Amidst happiness there’s a sense of the tragic; amidst tragedy there’s humour. All is woven together in this big and direct text which delves with empathy and fondness far beneath the surface of a foreign stereotype. These three characters draw from cliché but blossom and flourish in the messy complexity of real life. The work is also a celebration of contemporary and apartheid-stained Johannesburg with all its grim contradictions, its racism and its bruised and tawdry history.

Bringing in everything from the sudden demise of a beloved cat named Loopy to the grim realities and grunts which a once-young woman nick-named Helen of Troyeville carries in her handbag and heart to keeping up with the Greek neighbours with 1000 break-worthy plates at a wedding, the work is a slice of life which, like any Greek dessert, will leave you keening with the richness of the material’s fabric, but feeling enriched and privileged to have been in the presence of the thing.

Spanoudes is an astonishing performer who embraces the challenge of vulnerability with a humble gusto. He basks in the unforgiving presence of the audience as he bares his Greek soul, inflicted hurts and broken plates, with a generosity of spirit that is all-embracing and will truly get you off your seat in the audience, and in the arms of strangers, dancing as though on the beach, with nothing left to lose.

As you shout ‘Opa’ and send plates careening noisily into pieces, you realise how life can overflow on stage, gloriously.

  • Broken Plates is written by Renos Nicos Spanoudes and directed by Loren Rae Nel. It features design by Spanoudes and Nel (costumes and set, and lighting) and is performed by Spanoudes as part of the Wits So So1o festival, at the Wits Downstairs Theatre, on September 26 and 27. webtickets.co.za
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