Review: Sami In Paradise (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 1 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Nikolai Erdman (adapted by Eamon Flack and the company)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Paula Arundell, Fayssal Bazzi, Nancy Denis, Charlie Gerber, Victoria Haralabidou, Marta Kaczmarek, Mandela Mathia, Arky Michael, Yalin Ozucelik, Hazem Shammas, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In a refugee camp, life is cheap. Its inhabitants are essentially stateless, treated like human waste; unwanted and despised by the world. When word goes out that Sami is contemplating suicide, a throng materialises, of groups suddenly taking interest in his existence, not to offer dissuasion or rescue, but to leverage his impending death for their own purposes. Nikolai Erdman’s deeply cynical The Suicide undergoes a wild adaptation by director Eamon Flack and the company of Sami In Paradise, updating the 90 year-old play so that it converges with concerns of the day. The ubiquitous but blasé digital activism being disseminated in developed nations, is juxtaposed against the dire plight of asylum seekers, to deliver a work that interrogates our social consciousness through some very acerbic humour.

A thoroughly entertaining production, Sami In Paradise engages cleverly with its audience, discussing the most serious of issues with a deceptively light touch. The many laughs that it provides requires that we pay attention to matters that many usually choose to turn a blind eye to; the only way to indulge in its comedy is to be engrossed in the dark tale that lies at the centre of all the jolly action. An effervescent carnival atmosphere is manufactured by Flack, who demonstrates extraordinary inventiveness in his use of space and talent. Jethro Woodward’s music plays an integral part in calibrating energy and mood for the piece, with musicians Mahan Ghobadi and Hamed Sadeghi proving invaluable to the show’s resounding success.

A motley crew of sprightly characters, inexhaustibly mischievous, take to the stage for an exceptionally well-rehearsed and creative theatrical experience. Their confident chemistry ensures that we enjoy every minute of their presentation; delightful and provocative in equal measure. Leading man Yalin Ozucelik’s glorious portrayal of the despondent and confused Sami, is a work of comic genius. Technically brilliant, but also undeniably soulful, his storytelling captivates and inspires, while keeping us endlessly amused. The cast’s ability to convey a sense of depth within each of its jokey manoeuvres, makes their show revelatory and meaningful.

Humans are capable of great atrocities, and it is important that art helps us understand the parts of ourselves that are reprehensible. It is easy to ignore the ugly ways in which we operate, and let comforting delusions lead us to believe that humanity is only benevolent. Art has to embody and reflect the truth, and the more that it is able to let us see who we actually are, the more it needs to be championed, even if the results are difficult. Sami acknowledges that we hold power over his destiny, and asks us point blank, if we wish to have him killed. Our answer should be simple, but all the evidence suggests that we are not capable of doing the right thing.