BWW REVIEW: New Australian Work THE LADEN TABLE Is A Modern Day Romeo And Juliet Filled With Heart, Hurt And Hope
Wednesday 15th March 2017, 8pm, Kings Cross Theatre
Taking the audience into 'typical' homes, THE LADEN TABLE explores the "dinner table racism" that exists in homes across Sydney in an effort to break down barriers and show how alike we really are, regardless of race and religion. Under Suzanne Millar's direction, this collaborative work, written by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan, and Ruth Kilman, from Muslim, Jewish and Catholic backgrounds, has an honesty, truth and believability that makes the plea of understanding even more pointed.
Perczuk, Alam, Gadir, Hill, Kernahan and Kilman, who collectively refer to themselves as "Abe's Babes" have created a Shakespearean lovestory with the possibility of tragedy, dependent on whether generations of hurt and hate can be overcome for the sake of love. Two religious feasts are being celebrated by two families which are mirrored with 3 generations in attendance plus a close family friend. At a house in Sydney's eastern suburbs, Abe Fishman (Geoff Sirmai), a holocaust survivor, leads the Fishman family in celebrating Yom Kippur and is joined by his son Jacob (Donald Sword), daughter in law Esti (Abi Rayment) and two granddaughters Ruth (Jessica Paterson) and Daniella (Justina Ward) along with Nathan Gutman (Doron Chester), a family friend who has designs on the uninterested Ruth. In the western suburbs, Zainab Ka'adan (Gigi Sawires) and her son Ibrahim (Monroe Reimers), daughter in law Nadya (Suz Mawer), grandson Mousa (Mansoor Noor) and granddaughter Yasmina (Sarah Meacham) are joined by Mousa and Yasmina's non-Muslim friend Zac Thomas (Alex Chalwell), as they celebrate the end of Eid. Family expectations, stories of 'the old country', and memories of wars still being fought half a world away are unearthed as the two eldest grandchildren are torn by their own experiences at the face of the current conflict from time spent building schools and working in a hospital in Haifa in Israel.
Millar has presented the work as a single 'Laden table', at which the two families gather in a symbolism of how close these communities are but how divided they are as each group moves around the other, oblivious to their presence. Courtney Westbrook has created a beautifully laid table with fine silver, good china and serving plates ready for a feast of traditional foods. Persian carpets line form a patchwork over the floor and the dining tables come from two different settings. A multitude of retro filament bulbs are suspended above the table allowing Benjamin Brockman a flexibility of options to heighten mood changes when paired with the candle light, flood lights and overhead lighting.
This is a captivating and moving work, driven by the elders that remind the families of their past and their heritage whilst the children provide the hope for the future as they attempt to explain to their elders that mindsets need to change. Sirmai is endearing as the somewhat cranky patriarch that really just wants to eat after the day of fasting. He captures the iconic Jewish humour and has a gravitas as he leads his family whilst hinting at a darker, judgemental side as Abe judges Esti as being from a family that hasn't suffered in the same way he did, and a latent racism as the subject of working with Muslims comes up. He is matched by Sawires portrayal of Zainab who expresses the old woman's retention of the traditions and prejudices of the past as she hounds Yasmin to wear a hajib, failing to understand that Nadya will not force the student to wear one for her own safety.
As the two younger sisters Ward and Meacham are wonderful as Daniella and Yasmin respectively. Whilst having smaller roles, they help ensure that the work is understood to be a contemporary piece whilst capturing the average Australian teenager. The way Yasmin wants to be a lifesaver, therefore learning to swim further highlights that despite her various background, she really just wants to integrate and be like the other kids at school. They tease and taunt their siblings, lulling the audience into thinking they are young and naïve when in reality they end up being the voice of reason and understanding
As the modern day Romeo and Juliet, Noor and Paterson present Mousa and Ruth with an honesty and understanding of people that have seen first-hand the reasons for why change needs to be effected and prejudices need to be set aside. Millar has opted to present the memories from Haifa as narrations or flashbacks, utilising lighting and sound to bring them out of the feast and presenting direct to the two banks of audience flanking the table. These and the other various accounts presented direct to the audience draw the focus to internal thoughts and memories, adding an extra dimension to the work and enable a better understanding of the issues that must be addressed and set aside before progress can be made.
THE LADEN TABLE is a captivating and thought provoking work that highlights the similarities that exist between different communities that are still divided by prejudice and memories of the past. Whilst it doesn't necessarily give a perfect happy ending, it does give a starting point for conversation and change. This is an interesting and important work that anyone, regardless of what race or religion they relate to and it is good to see intelligent Australian stories making it to our stages.
KXT - Kings Cross Theatre
10 - 25 March 2016
Photo: Natasha Narula