Location: Theatro Technis
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Annette Kennerley
Topics List: Gallin Hornick
For video timings see George Eugeniou video Topics List
00:00:00 Early life; study, first theatrical work. George Eugeniou (GE) was born in Limassol, Cyprus, moving to London in 1950. His father died when he was 14. He had 2 brothers, 2 sisters. Though from a poor background he managed to attend a gymnasium school (grammar school), where he encountered very inspiring tutors. He knew from age 15 that he wanted to go into theatre. He did some shows at school, his tutors encouraged him to go further with his talent. There was a show about Elijah as an old man.. Finished school 1949-50, decided to come to London; his eldest sister was living there with her family, which ‘was a blessing’. He started working in the dress-making factory where she was working, in the mail-order department. At Morley College, Frank Drew, a diction tutor, offered him free tuition to help him go to drama school full-time. He entered Webber Douglas (WD) [Drama School now closed] in 1952, where he studied for 2 years. His sister lived in Fulham, later moving to Camden. She had a husband & 2 sons and worked very hard. GE took weekend/holiday work at Lyons tea shops. In Year 1 at WD he won the Spotlight Award, in Year 2 he won the Webber Cup. In 1954-55 he started work at Dundee Repertory Company, where he remained for 6 months playing small parts; ‘it was a terrific experience. Then he returned to London. Donald Wolfit’s company – The Strong And Lonely, touring major English cities with it before going to the Piccadilly Theatre. GE had a top agent, getting him a lot of work especially in films and television (Michael Powell, Dirk Bogarde in Ill Met By Moonlight, Peeping Tom.. also Morecambe & Wise). One part was that of a young Cypriot falsely accused of stealing things; most of the other parts were ‘like a crook or a waiter’. He felt there was something missing, he wasn’t completely happy with it. He heard about Joan Littlewood’s (JL) Theatre Workshop in 1956, auditioned for her. She was doing an Irish play – Behan’s The Hostage -and would ordinarily not have had room for him, but she made one of the characters an Irish Cypriot in order to accommodate him! It was ‘eye-opening, an inspiration’, and the first experience of improvisation in the theatre. Fascinating for GE was JL’s use of professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs; he found very important lessons in this, relevant to the modus operandi of his own company later on.
00:09:45 London & the Greek Cypriot community in the 1950s. London was very foggy. It was ‘hostile in a way’, but GE found some ‘very nice people’ who really helped him through, plus he had his sister’s family. The Greek Cypriot community was concentrated in Camden. There’d been a mass emigration from Cyprus in the 1930s after the uprising there; to the US & Australia but also England which was nearer plus the Cypriots were already British subjects. A Greek café in Greek Street, Soho became the focus of the Cypriot community when they arrived. They developed close links with the Italians, who offered work in the cafes & restaurants. Also went into the rag trade, working with the Jews; and they spread out to Camden. The Cyprus Brotherhood – GE did 3 plays with them, but then moved on. Inspired by JL to start a theatre for the Cypriot community. 1954-5 saw a new uprising in Cyprus. Archbishop Makarios had been campaigning for union with Greece; vetoed by UN, had disappointed many Cypriots. Every time a British soldier was shot in Nicosia, there were uprisings against the Cypriots in Camden: anti-Cypriot slogans. Cypriot children had a hard time in schools in the 1950s.
00:24:00 Birth of Theatro Technis. Theatro Technis (TT) started in 1957…and put on a play called Cyps Go Home, which was received very well. It was bilingual, about a family living in London. Performed at Unity Theatre, who were quite supportive – like an alternative home. Also used a hall behind the Dominion Theatre. TT: worked in their own rooms and pubs, had a basement in Eversholt Street and a café in York Way. Eventually moved to a garage – for 10 years, still with a car in part of it (Camden Mews). Lost the garage when the house was sold. Plays by a Cypriot writer: Under the Carob Trees & The Immigrant. Secured an office from Camden Council for 2 hours a week – very popular (queues outside), so the usage was extended. Civil war in Cyprus – GE got involved in campaigning for the rights of Cypriot refugees…which at one time entailed organizing sanctuary for a young Greek Cypriot couple, as per one of TT’s own playscripts! It attracted big media attention, a lot of publicity, which helped to prolong the sanctuary period; and as a result of this campaign, 2000 people received indefinite leave to stay. People challenged GE about his campaigning, telling him he was a theatre worker; GE answered them: ‘What is theatre? It is the mirror of life – getting involved in other people’s problems enriched one’s own experience, ‘It becomes a very important factor in creativity’. ‘From life to art, from art back to life.’ Community work and theatre work intertwined.
00:44:15 Antigone & Prometheus Bound; new property in Camden. Antigone – 1967, in the garage; to expose what happened regarding refugees. The junta had banned all Sophocles’ plays, especially Antigone; a scenario was created where a production of Antigone is being prepared in Athens when news of the ban comes over on the radio and a decision must be taken whether to continue with the play. Prometheus Bound – similar but different; junta interrupts the performance and arrests the actors, after which the performance continues in prison in terms of the torture of the actors. Hampstead Theatre, Roundhouse, Unity. Both plays taken to Cyprus in the 1980s (experienced interference from the junta’s Officers’ Club). After the garage: GE had a friend who was a Camden councillor, Ivor Walker, who tipped him off about some British Rail property the council had recently acquired. There was a disused railway shed, took 2 years to convert it (1972-4). Very successful over several years, before the council demanded the property back in order to build the houses they’d planned (but earlier not had the money for). Aristophanes production, O Democracy (1976): the Time Out critic raved about it – people came from all over to see it, including from the US, also some RSC actors came to see it.
00:56:30 Arts Council funding; new church property; thriving in 1980s. Up till this time TT had received no grants from anyone, but now they were approached by an officer of the Arts Council (AC), who was enthusiastic about them (saying they reminded him of Joan Littlewood); and brought the whole AC panel to see them. Started funding them; it lasted till the mid-1980s. When the time came to give up the railway shed, GE was invited to a council meeting where he would have 3 minutes to put his case. He talked about all the work that had gone into creating the shed space, involving Turks as well as Greeks, the old as well as the young. GE approached the Church commissioners, asking to be informed of anything that came on the market; one came through in 1978. Camden Council bought it for them, granting a 5 year lease on a peppercorn rent (i.e. TT responsible for the renovation – ‘It was in an appalling condition, the priest had neglected it’). They were told the place was haunted. It was a white working-class area, ‘very xenophobic and racist’, and they started a petition against TT. But the 1980s were a golden decade for TT; they received a 6-figure grant from Camden, they were also getting money from the Arts Council. Had a children’s/young people’s/women’s/adults’ theatre, a laboratory (theatre workshop), a darkroom, an exhibition space, a library; ‘It was really thriving’. After the 5 years, Camden offered a long lease but GE told them he wanted to buy it. They said OK, as long as he got the approval of the 15 wards’ constituents. It was given…but then he was told the sale would require the permission of the Secretary of State (a hard prospect – a radical theatre company and a Conservative minister). This would be avoided if the price was put up from £40,000 to £90,000. GE was advised to ask the council for a £50,000 grant, which he got; and he managed to raise the other money.
01:07:45 Cyprus Invasion & controversy. GE determined to highlight what was really happening around the invasion of Cyprus. The issue of the Cyprus flag raised at Camden Town Hall; led to pressure on the council to withdraw their entire TT grant, even to take away the building. GE realized things would be much better if TT were financially independent!
01:20:30 Other alternative theatre groups; TT archive; TT goes international. Relations with other groups, especially the black community. Mark Heath, a black actor… A Nigerian play, The Model Village.. Roundhouse, Unity.. TT was first of all a club (1950s-70s), later becoming a charity & company limited by guarantee. TT maintains an archive, helped by Lottery funding. Youth theatre work – One In Seven (about sickle cell). From 1990s TT became more international, with students from various countries coming to do internships as well as kids from all over London coming to do work experience there… TT had served the Cypriot community, had its roots in the Cypriot community, but it was time to broaden out.
01:29:30 Young people’s theatre (cont’d); theatre for refugees; women’s theatre. 1980s, GLA funding for youth work – shows very good, successful. Peter Polycarpou. National Engagement – went to Cyprus refugee camps to do plays, which were performed also in UK (in Greek). Women’s theatre group – Pandora’s Box.
01:34:30 TT Crew; Café Theatre; forum theatre. Other people involved with TT. The Café Theatre started in 1990s with the arrival of internet. Forum theatre – giving the audience a chance to re-run the play from any point with an alternative direction to try to save the protagonist. Biggest achievement in GE’s view: survival, and the education aspect of the theatre. Currently pursuing the classics but also encouraging new work. Sophocles: only to be spoken in the original ancient Greek (‘It’s like Beethoven or Mozart…’).