Company name: Theatro Technis
Founders: George Eugeniou
Reason: To create a permanent theatre for the Cypriot community in London
Current Status: Continues to operate – see Theatro Technis website
Policy: George Eugeniou outlines his policy was ‘to share people’s experience through involvement; to question everything by taking nothing for granted; to work hard for the necessary changes by all possible means; to develop a radical and total theatre to break barriers between nationalities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, classes, ages and languages’.
Structure: Artistic Director: George Eugeniou
Based: Their first theatrical home in 1957 was in a garage in Camden Mews, just off Camden Road, NW1 – the theatre company shared it with the owner’s car for 10 years. In 1972 they moved to a disused railway shed in Maiden Lane, NW1, near King’s Cross Station. In 1978 they took over an old church house at 26 Crowndale Road, Camden NW1 1TT and converted it into a theatre, their present home.
Funding: Inner London Education Authority, Greater London Arts Association, Camden Council, Islington Council, Arts Council of Great Britain, Heritage Lottery Fund, Unity Theatre Trust
Performance venues: Camden, London, UK, Cyprus, schools, colleges, community centres and youth centres
Audiences: Community, various, all ages.
Company and work process:
When George Eugeniou set up Theatro Technis in 1957, he dedicated himself totally to it, abandoning his career as a mainstream actor, apart from a few movie roles in the 1950s and 1960s. Theatro Technis (meaning work, art, craft) was neither commercial nor subsidised. It was formed with the help of a group of actors, workers and students, (including Andreas Markou, Stelios Kyriacou, Medea O’ Brennon, Andy Lysandrou and Spyros Kyprianou) and the company wrote and performed plays in small venues around London – pubs, cafes, assembly rooms – as well as at the Unity Theatre in Camden, Hampstead Theatre, Roundhouse and Theatre Royal, Stratford. The group met and rehearsed in rooms above pubs and in their own rented rooms until they acquired their first home in a garage in Camden which they shared for the first 10 years with the owner’s car. The garage became a cultural centre for young Cypriots. Some of the productions staged there were adaptations of classical Greek plays as a form of protest against the Greek military junta such as Sophocles’ Antigone and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Other productions included The Incapable, The Lightning Light, The Immigrant, Under The Carob Trees and Cyps Go
As Theatro Technis’ Artistic Director, George devised, directed and acted in numerous productions, often inspired by Cypriot or Greek artists and events. He was also one of the first who produced plays by Black writers such as Mark Heath’s Bakerloo To Paradise and Harcourt Nichols’Look Forth With Love. He has opened the gates to hundreds of students from all over London and abroad, proposing work experiences or internships, free of charge. In 1967 he initiated the Cyprus Week, an annual festival to highlight the Cypriot culture and way of life in the United Kingdom, and to create a greater awareness of the struggle Cyprus has had against British colonialism and Turkish invasion. In 1968 he created the first Cypriot Advisory Service in the United Kingdoms which has helped thousands of Cypriot migrants and refugees receive welfare benefits, education or housing. In 1969 George Eugeniou married Maroulla Sekkides who had become an actress for Theatro Technis. Their son Aris is also committed to the theatre and its work.
In 1972 the garage was sold and Camden Council offered Theatro Technis a disused, dilapidated railway platform near King’s Cross station, which took them two years to transform and cost £2,000 (paid for by Camden Council and the Cypriot community). The production The Vandals Are Coming explored the clash between classes, and fears within the local community, and used both professional and amateur actors of all ages. At this time, Theatro Technis helped form a pressure group to fight for the rights of Cypriot refugees fleeing to London after the Greek fascist coup and Turkish invasion in 1974. Their production Oh Democracy in 1976 received rave reviews from a Time Out critic and drew large audiences. Cafe Theatre took place on Sundays at the ‘Canopy’ (as the garage was known as) when young actors, students, singers, painters and directors got together to work on ideas.
When the Council decided to re-develop the site to build a housing estate in 1976, a campaign to incorporate the theatre into the plans failed and the company faced eviction. By 1978 they managed to secure an old church vicarage and church hall in Crowndale Road, Camden, which the Council bought and rented to them at a peppercorn rate. Their new home also housed an advisory centre, a lunch group and two annual festivals.
A Young People’s Theatre was formed in 1981 to devise and write plays exploring themes relevant to young people in the community which were performed to a range of audiences in schools, colleges, community centres and youth centres. One In Seven was scripted, staged and performed by young people suffering with thalassaemia. The group also addressed issues such as racism, sexuality, drugs and sexism. Best of Tofias dealt with identity, Contract explored heroin addiction, Hands Tied, Tied Hands encompassed music, dance and mime and exposed the rules of society, while Gringland addressed issues relating to conditioning and won an award from the Greek Review magazine for the most original script of 1986.
Young theatrical companies from all over the world perform at the theatre (Japanese groups are still regular visitors to Theatro Technis) while George’s own productions uphold his radical, community-based principles. Encouraging new voices, talents and creative partnerships, Theatro Technis welcomes young and not yet established artists as well as actors from known companies.
The young actor Peter Polycarpou wrote the plays Searching For The Lemons (about roots and identity) and Cypriot Graffiti (about values). The Women’s Theatre Group was formed in 1985 to address issues relating to Cypriot women and produced plays such as Old Pandora’s Box based on the experiences of older Cypriot women who visited the luncheon club and advisory service at the theatre. They also staged an evening of theatre, poetry and songs about the oppression of women called To Korasato (virginity). In the 1980s plays such as The Appellants (the appeal), The National Engagement and The Fire Burns Where It Falls were produced to highlight and campaign for the plight of Cypriot refugees.
In 1987 the Council sold the freehold of the Crowndale Road premesis to Theatro Technis at an affordable price. The new home enabled them to create a forum theatre which broke down the barrier between performers and audience. The play Two Lives (about the dilemma facing a father in Cyprus whose son in London needs a kidney transplant) was performed twice to involve the audience in devising an alternative ending. For a brief moment the theatre enjoyed almost adequate Arts Council funding for its theatrical and community work. It then lost funding totally for 10 years until a slim lifeline in the form of the National Lottery gave a short respite in the 1990s.
Personal appraisal & thoughts:
George Eugeniou made a documentary in 1977, called Campaign to Save Theatro Technis supported by the BBC’s Open Door. It was when the then-proposed building of the Maiden Lane Housing Estate by Camden Council, meant that the theatre building, which had been converted by unfunded volunteers from a disused railway shed (with the Council’s permission and encouragement), had just been completed, but was to be demolished to make way for the redevelopment. George explains how Theatro Technis took over the railway shed in 1972 and made it into a theatre they called The Canopy:
‘When the garage was sold, I went to Camden Council. There was a huge, dilapidated railway shed and I said, give me one third of this shed and I will make a theatre. They agreed and we raised some money from the community and it took us two years to finish it. There was a cinema in Kentish Town where a Greek Cypriot hired a hall to project radical films. The church decided to close it and he had to move all the chairs to a grocer’s basement in Camden High Street and then the rats started getting on them and the neighbours complained. And he said, George, I’ve got these 200 chairs – so we moved them there even before we put the floor in. It was fascinating. After five years we had put the theatre on the map and then Camden Council said sorry, we have to demolish it.’
George reminisces about taking over the Theatro Technis base in Crowndale Road in 1978:
‘We were responsible under the terms of the lease for restoring the building. The local kids thought it was haunted, and I suppose in a way it did have a few ghosts – the area was very working-class and there was a lot of racism still to deal with. There was a group of women nearby who got up a petition to stop us taking on the building on the grounds that we are Greeks and womanisers and gamblers.’
|Bakerloo To Paradise
Writer: Mark Heath
|Look Forth With Love
Writer: Harcourt Nichols
|The Vandals Are Coming
|Hands Tied, Tied Hands
|Best of Tofias
|Searching For The Lemons
Writer: Peter Polycarpou
Writer: Peter Polycarpou
|One In Seven
|Old Pandora's Box
|The National Engagement
|The Fire Burns Where It Falls
Interviewee reference: George Eugeniou
Links: Theatro Technis website
Existing archive material: George Eugeniou, Theatro Technis
The Arts Britain Ignores: the Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain by Naseem Khan (Commission for Racial Equality, 1976)
‘Theatro Technis at 31’ by Andy Nicola (Artrage, Issue 20, Spring 1988, pp 14-17)
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank and are greatly indebted to George Eugeniou and his son Aris Eugeniou for their contributions to this page, which was written and constructed by Annette Kennerley. November 2013. This page was created by the support of the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund