Review by Waverley College student – Toby Rabinowitz
Based on The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman
Adapted by Eamon Flack & the company
Director Eamon Flack
“I did not even weep at my own mothers’ funeral but I weep now” Sami in Paradise; directed and adapted from Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 play The Suicide by Eamon Flack and performed at the Belvoir Theatre, Surry Hills on the 11th of April. Sami in Paradise is a hilarious and excellently produced production than had me smiling the whole way through, except for when I was crying.
Sami in Paradise tells the story of Sami a refugee down on his luck feeling inadequate in an inadequate world. It is only when he starts to get suicidal thoughts though, that his world, really starts to fall apart (don’t worry, it’s funnier than it sounds).
Sami in Paradise explores many ideas throughout the play however the most prevalent were the themes of Exploitation and Manipulation. Constantly throughout the play Sami is treated as nothing more than a stepping stone to self-benefit one’s self. Sami is oblivious to how he is being used as merely a component in all the characters plans to self-propagate their own situation. Although hilarious to see these characters manipulate Sami to their own benefit, it is a profound social commentary. Would we sooner see a person take his own life just to improve our situation than to help that person? Looking into the ‘Rat Race’ and capitalistic ideals of ‘myself before my fellow human being’ in this growing competitive landscape.
Yalin Ozucelik is brilliant as Sami Bazzi, when he verbosely says what he’s thinking in long monologues, he leaves us completely engaged at every word he is saying. Not only is he compelling, he develops his character, Sami Bazzi fully through physicalisation and gestures. Initially we see Sami as a pathetic free-loader under-achiever which is played off as a gag. However, throughout the play we see Sami turn depressed and miserable. When we see Sami progress as a character we not only see how weak Sami becomes but also understand how Sami is thinking through Yalin’s character work. Not only is he miserable due to his situation (living in a refugee camp) but he is self-aware enough to be ashamed of the person he has become and is further becoming from his situation. Yalin expressed the body language of man who is falling into a downward spiral excellently. When Sami inevitably gets his hands on a gun, Yalin expresses how uncomfortable and unnatural it is in the hands of Sami and while being hilarious physical humour Yalin doesn’t sell-out the character for a gag but rather uses the characters motivations and state of mind and incorporates it within his comedic tangents. When Yalin would monologue on Sami’s thoughts and decision making every word feel genuine. We could hear how he was falling apart from his voice and the words he was saying. Whether it was through a slurred voice when drunk or his convention of self-doubt and self-questioning when rationalising his thoughts, he spoke and presented his thoughts true to his character. Sami is integral to the Earnest in the performance and Yalin understands when it is appropriate to take a scene jokingly or seriously. Yalin brings a certain energy to each scene which keeps you engaged whether making you laugh or making you tear up and brings the needed sincerity to the performance when touching such a disastrous and ever-growing issue. Yalin was easily able to work off his fellow actors and able to improvise through the situations he is put through throughout the performance especially through the live Foley which I will elaborate more on later.
Charlie Garber as Charlie Gerber is fantastic. Portraying one of the several leaching characters looking to use and abuse Sami, Charlie plays an important role as he sets the stage for the intentions of the characters attaching themselves to Sami. From the moment Charlie stands on the stage we get a sense of his slimy motives. His body language excellently gives us a sense of his character the way almost looks down upon Sami and how he sees him as a mere trophy piece through his character work. The way he spoke giving us this snobby back-handed impression excellently carried the characterisation of Charlie. Being the representative of the characters trying to use Sami, he stood out in his humour and callous lines. He was complete the whole performance and until the end you can’t help but be disgusted of how much he is willing to use Sami.
The use of a Thrust theatre was a great decision. You felt as if you were in their environment, a bystander watching from the side rather than a show before your eyes and it worked well with the style of the performance. When looking at the characters we believed their positions in the camp due to their costumes. In total, the performance was extremely aesthetically pleasing and added to the story.
The artistic vision of Sami in Paradise was extremely clear through the play with use of live Foley and keeping all characters on stage at all times made for a much more intriguing and dramatic performance. Live music as well as live sound effects were used throughout the play setting the tone for a scene or simply to add comedy to a scene. The uses of lighting and sound mixed exceptionally with the style of the play and kept you immersed and absorbed in a scene. Even though realistically the set was quite simple and basic it was perfect not only for the scenario of a refugee camp but for the overall style of the play. The style of the play mixed with the acting and costuming made for an amazing sensorial experience.
Sami in Paradise is a dark, quirky, and surprisingly enough, quite a conscientious thought provoking piece tackling hard hitting issues in a hilarious yet respectful way. When stepping into the theatre I was pleasantly surprised to laugh and laugh at the performance, expecting a preachy politically biased take on the refugee crisis. In fact, I believe I was most impressed in the sophistication in which they handled their subject matter. Although I did very much enjoy the performance I did have some issues with it as well. With quite a big cast of characters I found many characters to be underdeveloped or simply used for a gag. Although funny, comparing it to some of the other better performed comedy it fell flat for me. Another issue I had was with many characters serving as merely stereotypes for our main characters to feed off. Facing the same problems as the point before, however funny, they fell flat amongst the rest of the play. My biggest issue though was with the finale of the performance, the big climax to the story was of the character that was mentioned earlier in the play in the end ending his life. I was left scratching my head trying to remember who he was and why, really, I should care. It left me a little disappointed that the whole play built to this moment which felt executed quite poorly.
Overall though this is definitely one of the funniest, well produced and artistically driven performances I have ever seen. I would have to give it a 9/10.
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