Forbidden Stories @ The French Institute

Ludens Ensemble's story of Cyprus past and present is ambitious but occasionally confusing

Review by Katie Hawthorne | 29 Aug 2018

A border of grit and gravel separates the audience from the actors in Ludens Ensemble’s Forbidden Stories. Created for Pafos’ celebrations as the European Capital of Culture in 2017, the play tells the complicated story of Cyprus’ borders from the perspective of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. As the audience find their seats, history scrolls upon the show’s backdrop – quite literally. A potted summary of colonial ownership, annexation and buffer zones is projected over the heads of the four, raggedy-jacketed actors. It proves essential reading, as the subsequent performance leans on emotional, personal memories rather than reaching for any kind of reductive, simplistic overview.  

The play attempts to give a voice to multiple generations of Cypriots from the north and the south, using multimedia tricks to bring the telling to life. Ludens Ensemble have a uniquely kooky sense of theatricality, and they employ multimedia tricks and unlikely props (the aforementioned gravel, war figurines straight out of a game of Risk, Playmobil characters, IKEA stools) to illustrate the trauma of a conflict which displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. This mixture of darkness and light is compounded in Isidora Bouziouri’s song; her voice is both golden and mournful.

Forbidden Stories is rooted in sympathy for both sides of the dispute, but the ambitious intergenerational sprawl of the story is occasionally confusing. The company’s DIY aesthetic is charming, but sometimes the lo-fi tech muddies an already complicated narrative. When we finally travel with the younger generations, crossing old borders to revisit the villages where their families once lived, these moments don’t feel quite as poignant and powerful as such a story deserves.  

Forbidden Stories, French Institute, run ended

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