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BWW REVIEW: Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.

QUEEN FATIMA

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.

Saturday 9th January 2021, 8pm, Lennox Theatre Riverside Parramatta

Continuing his quest to put working class Lebanese Australian stories on stage, Playwright James Elazzi delivers another hilarious look into his community with QUEEN FATIMA. Presented as part of Riverside's National Theatre of Parramatta's mission to showcase works that tell Western Sydney stories not always seen on stage, this bright new work shows that many of the prejudices that young women face are universal, regardless of cultural background.

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.
Johnny Nasser as Rony, Kristelle Zibara as Fatima and Neveen Hanna as Jamili(Photo: Noni Carroll)

QUEEN FATIMA focuses on Fatima Aoun (Kristelle Zibara), a Lebanese Australian woman on the verge of turning 31 who still lives with her parents Jamili (Neveen Hanna) and Rony (Johnny Nasser), works in their traditional bakery, loves Britney Spears and has always carried a few extra kilos than the image obsessed society she is surrounded by is prepared to accept. When not working she is either out with her boyfriend, the socially awkward and somewhat spineless Karim (Rahel Romahn) or visiting her best friend, septuagenarian Gada (Fayssal Bazzi). When Karim essentially breaks up with her because he is ashamed of her and will not stand up to his parents who would prefer he marry a skinny girl, Fatima, inspired by Gada's coffee grounds fortune telling, decides to enter the recently advertised "Queen Lebanon Australia" beauty pageant to prove to Karim, his parents and everyone else who teased her that she to is pretty and "blessed".

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.
Kristelle Zibara as Fatima, Johnny Nasser as Rony, Neveen Hanna as Jamili and Sheridan Harbridge as Moonia (Photo: Noni Carroll)

Under Paige Rattray's direction, this amusing tale of acceptance and personal power with an Australian Arabic twist is given life with the aide of a broad two-tier stage designed by Renée Mulder (set and costume design). Expressions of the key rooms of the Aoun home and bakery sit alongside Gada's sitting room and the fashion studio of Moonia (Sheridan Harbridge), the obnoxious and over the top host and executive producer of Queen Lebanon Australia. There is a familiarity in the design for both the Aoun living room and Gada's sitting room, from crocheted doilies on the headrests of chairs, to the nest of side tables and circular rattan mats on the parquetry floor. Fatima's room reinforces that even though she is almost 31, there is still a degree of innocence and holding on to the past with lacquered white single bed and princess dressing table beneath a glamour pose picture of her pop star idol. The extent of Fatima's obsession with pop princess Britney and her refusal to live completely in reality is reinforced with Kelsey Lee's lighting design that frequently draws on a disco inspiration for scene changes. Mulder's costuming accentuates the characters, pushing Fatima, Gada and Moonia to the extremes that are not all that absurd to those more familiar with the social groups portrayed while the final surprise definitely does push costuming boundaries to the deliciously absurd.

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.
Rahel Romahn as Karim and Kristelle Zibara as Fatima (Photo: Noni Carroll)

Rattray ensures that there is a balance between the extreme characterizations and a sense of reality and normality to further heighten the comedy of the work. Fatima's parents, particularly her father, are presented with a natural expression to convey honest hard working and down to earth people while Fatima sits as a more extreme character somewhat lost in her dreams and disconnected from reality. While Fayssal Bazzi dons a dress and wig to portray Gada, he balances the absurdities of the superstitious fortune teller with a sincerity that makes it understandable why Fatima keeps visiting. Sheridan Harbridge takes glamazonian Moonia to the ultimate extreme of bitchy diva with hilarious physicality, comic timing, and extreme contouring as she totters on gold stilettos and waves her neon talons. Rahel Romahn's expression of Karim flips between subdued and 'normal' to overcompensating extremes inkeeping with the character's insecure door mat persona who is desperate to try to big note himself and please his parents.

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.
Sheridan Harbridge as Moonia and Fayssal Bazzi as Gada (Photo: Noni Carroll)

The standout performance comes from newcomer Kristelle Zibara who makes her professional debut in QUEEN FATIMA. Zibara gives the portrayal of the young woman an instantly recognizable honesty, even with Fatima's wild delusions that she could honestly succeed in the pageant. While she ensures that Fatima is very much an expression of a Lebanese Australian, she balances the expression to ensure that there is a universality to Fatima's struggle, thereby both giving outsiders a glimpse into the community while also proving that the Lebanese Australian experience isnt all that different to that experienced by young women from other communities.

BWW REVIEW:  Baked Goods, A Love Of Britney And Need To Boost An Ego Collide Come Together In QUEEN FATIMA, A Modern Australian Tale Of Acceptance And Understanding.
Kristelle Zibara as Fatima and Sheridan Harbridge as Moonia (Photo: Noni Carroll)

With underlying messages of acceptance, both of self and of others, the dangers of passing judgment and the destructiveness of keeping secrets and not communicating, QUEEN FATIMA is an amusing expression that presents Lebanese Australians as more than rev-heads that the media portrays them as, though there is a reference to their penchant for fast cars. Allowing social groups to see their own stories reflected on stage is important and this work achieves this while also proving to those outside of the subject community that regardless of the color of our skin, places where our ancestors came from and language we speak, there is a relatability in the stories and beneath it all, we are all part of the same broader community.

https://riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP/show/queen-fatima/

https://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/events/queen-fatima

Photos: Noni Carroll


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