Life of Byron: A story of struggle, strength and a clash of modernity with tradition

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By Bill Papastergiadis

A journey which resonated with me from the start. That was my overwhelming feeling from the play Life of Byron at the Alex Theatre in Melbourne, Victoria. A story of struggle, strength and a clash of modernity with tradition.

Tony Nikolakopoulos, the director, has been a friend for over 40 years. His passion to tell the migrant story is a constant. It’s one that he reflects on and thinks constantly about. As Tony remarked to me after the theatre performance, “we need to transport these stories beyond our own community as they are stories that are relevant to all Australians and they must be told.”

We spoke about how the Greek Community of Melbourne can also potentially assist, noting the impending works in 2024 to the church hall at St Dimitrios in regards to its transformation into a multi-purpose venue. 

Life of Byron
Life of Byron play poster. Photo: Alex Theatre St Kilda.

As I said to Tony, “it’s incumbent on all of us to assist where we can. All of our organisations in the community should be a part of this journey through our community spaces. In this way, we can offer opportunities that are affordable to theatre producers and which can be a home for these works.”

George Kapiniaris needs no introduction as his performances have been with us for many decades. His acting in this play was extraordinary as he poignantly told the story of a migrant boy in search of identity and fulfilment. I spoke to George about his performance in the play, particularly the part where he was transitioning to a young 18-year-old adult and the freedom it brought with it. I said that this immediately brought back my own memories of those exciting times when the world seemed before us. George replied, “that’s the part I identified most with as well.”

We then laughed with George about the part in the play dealing with South Melbourne Hellas as he claimed it was originally much longer and that the director cut it. Tony quickly added, “we had to cut it a little as George could have done the whole play just on that experience with South Melbourne Hellas.” Those memories of being at the soccer grounds with our parents was one George, Tony and I all agreed were still very much alive and present with us.

I’ve left Maria Theodorakis to the end. Her performance was a tour de force. Maria navigated nine different characters with sublime ease. As my good friend Chris Sikavitsas remarked to Maria that night after her performance, “I think you should receive nine wages tonight noting the nine performances you gave.”

As Australians, we need to support these cultural presentations. The play allowed me time to pause and reflect on our lives and upbringings.

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