Heaven on Earth happens in Plymouth on 28th and 29th June

Vana-Pefani‘Heaven on Earth’ comes to Plymouth University this weekend when an EU Culture funded performing arts project culminates with a series of events including as symposium at Plymouth Arts Centre entitled The Jean Genie: Why Jean Genet Still Matters. In Plymouth (And Lots of Other Places). Right Now and three performances of Heaven On Earth? in the Roland Levinsky Theatre at 3pm and 8pm on the Saturday, and 8pm on the Sunday. The production is directed by Vana Pefani and performed by an international ensemble of actors, dancers and acrobats. It begins when a bottle is found washed up in a harbour. Inspired by Jean Genet, the performance tells the magical story of one of life’s castaways who learns anything is possible when a bridge is forged between reality and illusion.

With the Pride in Plymouth being partners in the project, and number of community performers from Plymouth’s LGBT communities featuring in a the dance film Heaven is a Place (which premieres in the city at the symposium) we naturally jumped a the opportunity to speak with Vana and to ask her what has led her to this point in her international career.

Reflecting on her journey she told us “becoming an actor was not a dream I have had since I was a child. It was my choice to have worked and work in theatre groups rather than major theatres. I am co-creator in two of them. Our group does research and is concerned on the global history of violence, racism and human rights”.

As well as her social concerns though the work of Jean Genet features strongly in her own, although she was not always so enthused by him. “I discovered Genet at the Drama School when I was given to perform the role of Claire from the Maids. At first, maybe because I was very young and raised in urban environment, I did not understand him. He had me scared rather than enchanted. I can say I repulsed. But for sure, I didn’t remain indifferent”.

As time progressed then, Vana’s fascination with Genet’s work grew though principally with his novels rather than his theatrical texts. She found herself particularly drawn to “the poetic images of a brutal reality, idols and disguise, and eroticism that has no boundaries and decency are some of the elements of his books, which accompany me in this journey”.

So, now this journey has led her around Europe and to us here in Plymouth but Vana explained that “Heaven on Earth? is a performance that speaks to the world. Its theme is the meeting of a simple man with a great writer. How much can art influence us nowadays? What can happen when you get lost in the pages of a book? When reality and imagination are confounded … I present performances that I would be interested to see as a viewer. Performances that have a story to tell”.

Each of the performances are presented in Greek at every international location but with appropriate surtitles for each country. We asked Vana how far the show varied in response to such different audiences and she reflected “Different places, different people. The text is the same, the direction is being adapted. The only steady element is the water. Do you realize how contradictory is this? The water that is in constant motion, constitutes our firm.” This is the case as each performance is taking place in cities close to the sea with histories of being ports.

At the same time, however, Vana is very aware that she cannot “start to direct a play by what the audience expects of me. I do not know how to do that. For that reason, I cannot direct on order. What I do, should concern me, torture me, sink me in a dark tunnel and I should look for breakthrough, Every individual subject of the show is familiar to people. Violence, love, sexual desire, racism and xenophobia, despair and loneliness. We experience them every day. The way of handling differs. Social conditions. Heaven on Earth? speaks about contemporary problems. I wish it will create thought and discussion. This is our goal”.

Heaven picture

It seems very likely that the play will do that in Plymouth, place that Vana finds interesting as she identifies to sides to it. “The blue one and the green one. The sea and nature. In some walks that I made, I clearly distinguished the hard work of the people in the port and the tale with knights and the Holy Grail. The earthly Plymouth and the fairy. We bring a performance that combines these two elements. Extroversion of the area taken in conjunction with the introversion of the theme. We look forward to being with you”.

For more information and to book Heaven On Earth? tickets, please visit:


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