Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 22, 2018
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Suzanne Pereira
Cast: Reza Momenzada, Gabrielle Scawthorn
Images by Phil Erbacher
Hamed is stranded at sea with his small daughter, after having lost the rest of their family to explosives in their war-torn home. Escape is the only option, but with no apparent destination, their scurry can only be treacherous and agonising. Mary Anne Butler’s The Sound Of Waiting gives voice to those we term asylum seekers, whose stories are routinely exploited by politicians and media outlets for selfish gain. Here, however, we attempt to hear from the source, a first-person narrator untarnished by intrusions of our prejudice.
Also present is the Angel of Death, a mystical creature and a force of nature, but at times also a human enemy, who pursues Hamed, determined to annihilate. Both are in fierce opposition, but they speak almost in tandem, sharing a rhythm that drives the plot and action. Although in sync, the two characters develop in divergent trajectories, with Death always pulling attention away from our concern for Hamed. It is appropriate that they are not telling a cohesive story, and perhaps revealing, in the way director Suzanne Pereira allows a degree of distraction from the real tragedy.
Pereira’s work is powerful in its treatment of atmospherics. Together with Samuel James’ video projections and Tegan Nicholls’ sound and music, it is a spectacular collaboration that enchants the senses. Also very strong are both performers, Reza Momenzada and Gabrielle Scawthorn, who bring depth and intensity to the production. Momenzada’s ability in conveying authenticity is particularly valuable in this very contemporary tale of loss and hope.
Australia’s reaction to Hamed’s adversity is not explicitly written into The Sound Of Waiting. The audience is given a plain version of facts, so that our mettle is tested. It wants us to rise to the challenge of a compassionate response, which it accomplishes successfully. The consequences of war, as we see here, are undoubtedly bleak, but more significant is the play’s implication that compassion has become a challenge of our times, and although pervasive and banal, our cruelty is deplorable and deeply shameful.