You’re walking along the busy, bustling Church Street of Parramatta and suddenly find yourself standing outside the doorway of the El-Phoenician Restaurant. Delicious smells, curious sounds and intriguing lights beckon you inside. A wonderful sight greets you — a long, white cloth-covered table trails away to the far wall, strewn with glistening glass and silverware. At either end sits an elevated throne, and a tingle of excitement pulses through you. The smell intensifies as you find your seat, and you realise you’re sitting directly in front of a bowl of fried bread. You’re already salivating. On top is an offering of dips, and you cannot wait to dive in. This is the first of four courses you’ll savour tonight, as you wait for the show to begin.
This is the setup for Hakawati, a National Theatre of Parramatta production for the Sydney Festival this year.
The word ‘hakawati’ in Arabic means ‘teller of tales’ and combined with the sharing of food creates a beautiful concept for theatre. Although the show has no credited writer as such, it has been created and directed by Wayne Harrison in collaboration with the NTofP.
Each food course is punctuated with the telling of a story. Four actors (Sandy Gore, Olivia Rose, Sal Sharah and Dorje Michael Swallow) make the room their stage, and deliver interweaving stories about a Middle Eastern family who have fled the homeland to settle in Granville South.
The actors are charming and delightful, each bringing a different tone and skill to their stories: Gore is beguiling and effortlessly entertaining; Rose is utterly engaging and deeply funny; Sharah is quietly commanding and Swallow is witty and compelling.
The tale itself is fantastical and a bit silly, but what’s a good story without a little magic? Kim Kardashian makes an appearance, as does a magic lamp, a talking camel and Kylie Minogue. Intrigued? You should be. There is also spectacular surprise by Michael Stone and Emma Macpherson at the end.
The food is excellent. El-Phoenician is one of Sydney’s leading Middle Eastern/Mediterranean dining options, and dishes were served swiftly and efficiently between stories. The aforementioned fried bread, hot pastries, charred chicken skewers, an insanely intense garlic sauce and spectacular baklava were just some of the highlights.
It’s a delightful concept, bringing 40 strangers together to talk, break bread and listen to stories, and one we ought to see more of.
Playing at the El-Phoenician Restaurant in Parramatta during Sydney Festival, until January 21.
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now