My plan was to do this review as a filmed piece with acclaimed bilingual presenter, Sirine Demachkie conducting the interviews but it turns out, as a cinematographer, I’m a brilliant director/writer! Suffice to say, I’m converting interviews to text but they’re no less powerful.
Bearing in mind the intention of this work is to allow Arabic Australian’s the opportunity to have a performance space that honours their history, it was an insightful and welcomed addition ahead of the performance to have a Welcome to Country. We were met with much grace and enthusiasm by a traditional custodian of the land The Riverside Theatre stands by the Burramattagal Clan’s Elder, Rita Wright, of the Dharug people. You knew from that moment this was to be an engaged and inclusive experience.
I had the pleasure of interviewing writer and director, Paula Abood ahead of the World Premier of The Cartographer’s Curse and whilst having a solid grasp of the foundations of the play, I was unprepared for the literal diversity portrayed. One of the things most interesting was the bringing together of almost universally opposed art forms. Parkour is a relatively new form of expression and movement where the Qanun dates back thousands of years … the marriage of which is really something special.
One guest, Aiche, spoke very eloquently to Sirine, in Arabic, about her love of the use of the Qanun. “It’s very beautiful, I liked it. It (Qanun) expresses feelings. The Maestro allows you to enter in to the play … it’s musical, mesmerising, it’s soft and it’s beautiful. It stays with you.” And she’s right, as someone with no exposure to this instrument, it took its place as a character throughout.
There is a mix of history vs an account of what could have been reality at the time. We go back in time 100 years when the Middle East was literally carved up on a map with no real consideration of the identity crisis that would unfold by those decisions.
It felt like every cast member was a hero for their character’s cause and showed passion and intent in following through on the story that was their truth. This is certainly the case for Zainab Kadhim, the Poet. Sirine asked her how important it was for her to play this role. “For me, as an artist, I really resonated with the character and what she stands for; she stands for justice and that’s what I try to do through my artistic practice all the time.”
We had our rebel in Ali Hadhim who was the Resistance Fighter and expert Parkour performer. His relentless wish to change the way the world was shaping was consistent from beginning to end which was beautifully indicated in his agility and tiger like manipulation of his body across the stage.
The Cartographer himself (right) played by Ludwig El Haddad faces a struggle knowing he’s caused our Resistance Fighter to take up his fight and also his own daughter, The Merchant to challenge his wishes. He is in turmoil throughout the performance as to the ‘right’ thing to do and he relies heavily on his heart, and his friend.
A foil to the drama is The Cartographer’s friend, The Wandering Professor, played by Ghassan Hage who offers all the levity required in the play. There are moments only those who speak Arabic laugh but somehow that didn’t seem to matter. When asked his favourite character, one audience member, Inmah, summed it up. “I thought the Philosopher was very effective and I thought he was able to present ideas in a very comical sort of way, he was almost like the joker. He was a light hearted character who presented comic relief in the play. I think it’s very significant they used Ghassan Hage who is one of Australia’s important contemporary philosophers and theorists and to put him on stage; I think it was a very daring move and it worked – I loved it!”
Like any good production, there are no small players, every performance was organic and believable in the space and when listening in over drinks in the foyer, there was no one single complaint to be heard!
Karren Gail and Sirine Demachkie – Theatre Now and Talking Arts
5 October – 8 October 2016
Wednesday 5 October 7:30pm – PREVIEW
Thursday 6 October 7:30pm – OPENING NIGHT
Friday 7 October 7:30pm – INCLUDES POST-SHOW Q&A
Saturday 8 October 2pm & 7:30pm