By Anastasia Russell-Head
Cafe Scheherazade is a tale of survival, of hope, of culture, place and time. Based on Arnold Zable’s novel of the same name, this play tells the story of proprietors Masha and Avram Zeleznikow and three regulars at their café in 1990s St Kilda. They all emigrated to Australia as Jewish refugees after World War II and come together five decades later to tell their stories to a young journalist, Martin.
Drawing both laughs and tears from the audience (for me the image of a young exiled Jewish boy in Shanghai discovering an old man practicing Tai Chi in the misty dawn was unexpectedly moving), the importance of telling and knowing history is revealed and debated as the protagonists slowly reveal their moving personal stories.
Performances from the cast were uniformly strong, with Richard Bligh and Marta Kaczmarek especially standing out. The staging at fortyfivedownstairs evoked the modest post-war styling of the café, with its vinyl seating and laminate tables. Unfortunately sometimes the clarity of speech was lost in the “boomy” space, but otherwise Adrienne Chisholm’s deceptively simple design was very successful, with the audience surrounding the action on three sides.
Music is used to great effect in this production, with Ernie Gruner and Justin Marshall providing a superb Klezmer-based live soundtrack.
The story of displaced people escaping persecution and building a new home in a foreign country is particularly relevant in Australia today, and the stories told in this play take on a new poignancy in light of recent political debate. Engaging, affecting, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
A play based on the novel by Arnold Zable
Written by Therese Radic
Directed by Bagryana Popov
Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane
Until 11 September
Tuesday – Saturday 8pm
Matinees 2pm Wed 24 & 31 Aug
4pm Sat 27 Aug & 3 Sep
$45 / $40 / $37.50
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com