When Alec (Christofer Alcala) opened proceedings in The Challenging Tide with a half-screamed, half-hollered rant, I wondered if we were in for one of those one-dimensional characters who only ever spoke very loudly. Thankfully my fear proved unfounded in this absorbing and dynamic story about a Greek family in the late 1930s and early 1940s living in Athens. I say ‘living’ – they are sometimes merely ‘surviving’, particularly when the Third Reich took control of Greece, with inevitably dire consequences for the locals.
The other ‘fear’ I had wasn’t so much the running time of 2 hours, but that it was ‘2 hours without interval’. For such a dense and intense production such as this, I thought this might have been a bit of a struggle. But by the time I had even thought of glancing at my watch, 80 minutes had whizzed by in what felt like half an hour; the remaining 40 minutes felt like ten.
Part of this is down to experience – this isn’t the first time Theatro Technis has put on this Greek tragedy – and part of it is due to a gripping script from Stavros Lillitos (1919-1972). Written when it was in the early 1950s, there was presumably little if any need for a history lesson in the play, and the script is therefore refreshingly largely devoid of lengthy explanations about the politics of the time.
What we’re left with is a middle class family trying to get on with things. It isn’t all ‘woe is me’, though the play has its fair share of that, particularly when Christina (Teresa Cendon Garcia) comes on the scene. Mind you, Christina also provides some comic relief in her diva-like state (perhaps only Valjean in Les Miserables matches her use of a chair as a weapon), and, surprisingly, her final emotional and anguished cry is far from selfish.
There are stronger depictions of civil strife than I had expected, with all the heightened passions of an action movie. But such is the character development of Alec and his friend Michael (Andreas Toumasis), and, later, Alec’s father Mr Scapanes (Chris Poke), that the audience clearly understands why they’ve chosen to react to what were current affairs in the way they have, whether or not we agree with them.
Some excellent use of the space available is made by the cast. This does mean a bit of head ping-ponging every so often, but I found that was ultimately neither here nor there. This international cast speaks their lines in their native accents (it is assumed the characters are speaking in Greek), which does take some getting used to, at least initially. Home Counties, South American and Cypriot voices are all in there – but the good thing about it is that characters’ sentiments are expressed to the full.
There are twists and turns aplenty to maintain interest – even with discussions about organised religion and the different philosophies of different generations thrown in the mix. There are a lot of themes explored in this production, and the whole thing left me very much feeling that I had witnessed pure drama portrayed with both power and poignancy. ‘Challenging’ indeed, this show is a modern classic.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Challenging Tide feature around the Scapanes Family, who are caught up in the economic, social, religious, and political upheavals in Athens during 1936-44, and reveals how they react to those tragic events, which include the German occupations, making it very relevent to what is happening to Greece today.
The Challenging Tide
26 Crowndale Road, London, NW1 1TT
12th-30th January 2016