Forbidden Stories captivatingly tackles a subject that has long been seen as taboo by those who lived through it: the tense relationship – and later civil war – between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots of the Mediterranean island. Comprised of a series of vignettes, the show interprets various stories from both sides of the border, detailing the loss of lives, homes and sense of identity that lasted for almost 30 years.
The show has been carefully constructed by director Philippos Philippou and co-director/dramaturg Vangelis Makriyannakis. Spanning four decades, it includes tales from before, during and after the national conflict. They also refuse to choose sides, recounting the experiences of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in equal measure. It is the testimony interpreted by Jenny Logan, representing a woman who had connections to both communities, which highlights how both sides had innumerable reasons to blame the other. A particularly poignant moment, this philosophical monologue casts light on a national victimhood that long masked underlying feelings of guilt.
In the fascinating and insightful post-show discussion, Philippou commented on their decision to stay true to the original testimonies given. This is particularly effective in moments like Adam Tompa’s interpretation of the Turkish Cypriot who managed a POW camp. The man’s dismay at seeing his comrades rape Greek Cypriot women, leaving their children to starve, feels so incredibly raw. As fresh as the man’s psychological wounds is his fear that he will be punished for sharing his story. His threat to deny he ever said anything – that no-one will “believe a drunk” like him anyway – reminds us why these stories have been left untold for so long.
When watching Forbidden Stories, it is important to be conscious of the fact that you are watching a performance. It is very easy to forget that those on stage on actors, sharing other people’s stories and not their own. The lines distinguishing what is a performance and what is a personal experience sometimes begin to blur. Isidora Bouziouri is overcome with emotion as she ‘remembers’ going back to her house in the north-east Cyprus – the Turkish territory during the war – once the borders had been opened. It is a beautifully moving memory, yet you wouldn’t be a fool if you believed it was Bouziouri’s own. In fact, it is only during the post-show discussion that audience members will discover that none of the actors are even from Cyprus, so none of the testimonies shared are first-hand experiences (though many of them feel as though they are). While for the most part this is a testament to the actor’s talent, on this occasion Bouziouri’s tears regrettably taint the retelling, her breakdown feeling superficial.
Nevertheless, this does not take away from the whole experience. Forbidden Stories is a release, a liberating experience for those who had felt oppressed by their harrowing experiences of the civil war and territorial divide in Cyprus. To hear that many of the people who shared their stories with the theatre company have seen and enjoyed the performance is proof that Ludens Ensemble have created something very special. By making more people aware of the events that took place on the island, hopefully more Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will come forward and find relief in sharing their own forbidden stories together.