Hakawati | National Theatre of ParramattaLeft – Olivia Rose. Cover – Olivia Rose and Dorje Michael Swallow. Photos – Eric Berry

‘Hakawati’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘the teller of tales’ – and what ‘tales’ these tellers are telling!

Thanks to the National Theatre of Parramatta and their committed team of creatives, Hakawati – a form of entertainment that was very popular before television – is re-flowering with a vengeance and originality that only the inhabitants of Western Sydney could inspire.

The show takes place at El Phoenician restaurant where the dining room and tables are turned into a stage. The actors are seated at the ends of a very long table ON the table – the diners are in between – and the ‘stage design’ is assisted with the use of video projections and sound effects – it is all quite ingenious and effective.

The mini plays are performed in between courses and are intended to match the length and style of each course – there are four in total and each story is interconnected through the characters.

"The stories are created by me, the cast and the dramaturg, Aanisa Vylet, and they're about generational conflict between mums and dads and kids’, says director Wayne Harrison. "Food and food for thought we call it." (Sydney Morning Herald).

And food for thought it is.

Tale 1 tells the story of a boy trying to get ‘out of the closet’. Misunderstood by a father made angry by cultural dislocation, he is assisted in his journey of self discovery by his fairy Godmother Kylie Minogue who gets him to the Mardi Gras in the end. Narrator Sandy Gore does a great job in bringing the story to life with expressive vocal and facial nuances – she has you living the character’s struggle from the word go.

Tale 2 – narrated by the very talented Olivia Rose – takes us on a rocky road of birth, death and magical bread making to a place where Granville South meets Hollywood’s ‘Princess Kim’ for a happy ending. Rose is a competent and confident actress with impeccable timing. As well as considerable singing and drum playing ability, she is also very funny.

Tale 3 – our character ‘Kevin/Karam/Aladdin’ from the first tale (his many names reflect his identitiy crisis) decides to join a bikey gang because ‘he has to belong to something!’ Actor Dorje Michael Swallow continues the family saga and solves the mystery of the missing husband. Swallow’s performance is strong and heartfelt, and his dark looks and eloquent vocal expression bring the characters and events into clear focus.

The final tale – a duet between two characters Din (Dorje Michae Swallow) and Sin (Sal Sharah), is a tale that encapsulates ‘the war between the past and the future’; the conflict arising from past traditions in a new land and children wanting to break free. Some interesting history about camels and camel hair toilet seat covers is included via video projection, and a hilarious camel puppet and genie help ‘Din’ to finally realize that he can’t be what his parents want him to be. ‘Din’ moves to Sweden to study circus arts and his parents travel to watch him perform there. He implores them, ‘I want you to acknowledge me for what I am’ – and they do. The play ends with a beautiful pas de deux slap bang in the middle of the dining table and it is a fitting and hopeful ending to this wonderful evening.

Hakawati is original, fresh and thought provoking. It is not at all what I had expected but far more. It is a performance that highlights so many contemporary issues; immigration, integration and dislocation amongst others – all issues and challenges faced by those in new lands. Hakawati considers these issues in a sensitive yet humorous light and serves to help others understand the challenges faced by those who have been uprooted, whether by choice or necessity. The writing, acting, design, and directing are all excellent and inventive. For this fledgling company, Hakawati is a huge success and one that I hope will inspire the company onto new successes. Australia needs this kind of contemporary theatre that allows our creatives to create distinctly ‘Australian’ works that spring forth from the multicultural landscape that is modern day Australia.

National Theatre of Parramatta presents

Director Wayne Harrison

Venue: El-Phoenician Restaurant | 320 Church Street, Parramatta NSW
Dates: 11 – 21 January 2017
Tickets: $75 (includes dinner)
Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au

Part of the 2017 Sydney Festival

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