Sunday, January 15, 2017


Photo by Eric Berry
Riverside's National Theatre of Parramatta and Sydney Festival presents, HAKAWATI, created by Wayne Harrison, in the El Phoenician Restaurant, Parramatta, 11-21 January.

HAKAWATI, is an evening of food and entertainment. It has been inspired by the Middle Eastern ancient tradition of storytelling and breaking bread. In the sophisticated circumstances of the El Phoenician restaurant in Church St, Parramatta a long table, seating 40-50 people, has been elegantly prepared for a four course dinner of Lebanese cuisine.

At either end of the table, on a raised platform, an ornate wooden framed armed, high backed, red-velvet chair/throne awaits storytellers: Sandy Gore, Olivia Rose, Dorje Michael Swallow and Sal Sharah. These gifted performers each take a turn. The form of the storytelling in this evening reminds one of the famous stories of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, except, here, the stories are in a contemporary mode set in the Western Suburbs of Sydney - South Granville.

  1. The Story of the Third Son (Sandy Gore).
  2. The Story of the Woman Who Loved Bread. (Olivia Rose).
  3. The Story of the Three Brothers and the Bikie Gang (Dorje Michael Swallow - the most entertaining of the storytellers).
  4. The Story of the Boy Who Left Home (Sal Sharah, Michael Swallow, Sandy Gore, Olivia Rose).

The writing, unfortunately, is poor and the least pleasing element of this production. There is a kind of endless shaggy-doggedness about all the pieces, each, though, having a unique story and each, as in the Arabian Nights, refering one to the other. The main character is a boy called Kevin (there is a contemporary zeitgeist about that name at the moment it seems, as 'Kevin' is also the leading character in NOSFERATUTU at the SBW Stables Theatre!?) who grows up in a Lebanese family with inclinations of a different kind advised by the fairy of Kylie Minogue from the movie MOULIN ROUGE and the lyrics of her songs - a gay child!

OMG, No! This can't be a serious thematic in 2017, can it? Unfortunately, it becomes the undertow to all the stories, one way or another.

There is no dramatic frisson, no tension, there is only tediously situated narrative and a faux 'suburban' good naturedness about it all. There is no real wit or insight. There is no 'teaching' - moral fable or metaphor - of any sophistication. It is exhausting and tedious. No writer is acknowledged in the program, although it tells us it was created by Wayne Harrison.

After the stories are finished a burlesque adagio appears on the cleared table, given by Michael Stone and Emma Macpherson. (More than a bit over the 'burlesque' splash that is everywhere  at the moment, too - from the Sydney Opera House in the Concert Hall to the El Phoenician Restaurant in Parramatta.)

The restaurant and the food are the stars of this extremely disappointing evening out. If there is no quality in the writing no performance can succeed. Not ever. No way.

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