National Theatre of Greece’s meditative ‘Goodbye, Lindita’ brings new theatrical tragedy to Adelaide Festival

Athenian director, Mario Banushi's wordless play explores the collective experience of grief in the Balkans and beyond

Are you familiar with the Greek expression ‘πέθανε από στεναχώρια’? It translates to a person “dying of sadness”, which is also known as “broken heart syndrome”.

Athens-based director Mario Banushi recently witnessed his stepmother passing away three days before the death of his terminally ill father.

The 24-year-old son of Albanian immigrants to Greece turned the tragedy of death into a wordless 70-minute mediative theatre.

Goodbye, Lindita is at the National Theatre of Greece for a second year and is premiering in Australia for the Adelaide Festival in late February and early March.

The Australian premiere comes in the aftermath of a European tour. First stop was Belgrade’s Bitef Festival, where Goodbye, Lindita snapped two awards. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

“My stepmother’s unexpected death marks the beginning of the play, but it is not a narration of her life.

“I present my own lived experience of that farewell. The starting point is individual, but it speaks to the collective experience,” Banushi tells Neos Kosmos.

The work communicates how people come to terms with death.

“We’re just witnessing one more attempt [to come to terms] from yet another family.”

Babis Galiatsatos plays the only male character on stage.

Mario Banushi. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

He recounts how the play’s final form developed with input from the ensemble cast.

“Mario communicated his core concept, certain scenes, images, and we took it from there rehearsing, each sharing their own stories of grieving a death.

“And he had us all play the role of Lindita during rehearsals,” Galiatsatos says.

Banushi reasons, “This show does not have a protagonist, only a person who has departed and the living, so I wanted everyone to go through that role.

“It’s not about Lindita being the central character; everyone is telling the same story.”

He believes it makes the play “so open to relate to”.

The icon of a Madonna Nera is present in the play, with the role performed by Congolese-born Helene Habia Nzanga. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

So, there is no protagonist and no dialogue.

“Of course, there is text to guide our acting,” Galiatsatos notes.

“We’re not improvising on stage. Our moves are timed and sequenced to the smallest detail.”

Banushi says that those who have not seen a wordless work before become emotionally engaged with a story told with images.

“Not through dance, nor miming. And, of course, some people are fond of this genre.”

Goodbye, Lindita has been described as a “visual meditation on mourning.”

Babis Galiatsatos. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

The audience follows a family’s grieving journey ‘on mute’, intercepted by a series of events crossing boundaries between the world of the living and that of the departed Lindita.

Apart from Galiatsatos’ character, the group of mourners seen on stage is all-female. Not by chance.

“It shows how traditionally, in places like the Balkans, men are not supposed to participate in public mourning.

“But they do mourn in secret. You see my character at his most vulnerable, breaking down under the bed covers and crying non-stop,” Galiatsatos said.

The adult baptism ritual is portrayed in the play, a nod to the practice many Albanian immigrants undertook, farewelling their original names to assimilate in Greece. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

The director admits that his initial thought was “only to include female characters, true to the images I’ve had in mind from funerals I’ve attended.”

As the son of Albanian migrants, Banushi has first-hand experiences of the traditions common across the Balkans.

“You’ll see Balkan rituals and elements on stage, pervading music, colours, and outfits; they play a huge role in the show.

“They are my reference points and how I’d visually imagined the show; it’s not simply a matter of taste.”

Galiatsatos interrupts to share examples like grieving songs, keeping the body of the deceased at home the night before the funeral, and the intimate supporting role of women.

As per an Albanian wedding tradition featured in the play, the bride wears vivid makeup and carries a little mirror on her way to the groom’s house, seeing her face in a symbolism of farewelling her old self before marrying. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

“We may be witnessing Albanian rituals, but for Greeks, it’s the same.”

“When we perform in Germany, for example, like we did in our tour, and you see people getting emotional at an expression of grief as seen in the Balkans, it’s like art building bridges between places and people.”

Galiatsatos says Greek Australians have all the more reasons to go and see the play.

“Many, including in Greece, would not have seen anything equivalent. It’s not dance, it’s not somatic performance, it’s a window to very personal images, the ones only… you know, a stickybeak would typically get to see.

n Goodbye, Lindita visually striking images take up the space amidst a complete absence of dialogue. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

“For Greek Australians, I think it would resonate beyond the pleasure of witnessing contemporary Greek theatre; they may perhaps recognise our most traditional Greek customs as performance on stage.”

Banushi agrees.

“I think they will see their families portrayed on stage, themselves, their homelands. It’s like flicking through photos from your ancestral village.”

Travelling to Australia for the first time is a dream come true for the director.

“Growing up, I’d always hear about the country through my auntie, who lives in Sydney. The opportunity to visit, thanks to our work, makes it even more special.”

Banushi has been dubbed Greek theatre’s ‘child prodigy’ for the season. “I thank them for still considering me a child,” he jokes. “I’m flattered of course to hear compliments and grateful, but it stays there. I just keep doing what I’m doing 100% dedicated to my work. I’m only 25 so naturally eager to keep learning and exploring new ways, new spaces.” Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

Running for a second season in Greece and having just completed a European tour, Goodbye, Lindita has earned enthusiastic reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Did the 24-year-old director expect this response?

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Banushi admits.

“We are a truly beautiful team behind it. It wasn’t created to make it something big, to have sold-out shows or tours.

“I wanted to make it, bring it on stage. We can only be grateful for what eventually happened.”

Goodbye, Lindita is showing at the Adelaide Festival between 29 February and 3 March.