Review By Abbie Gallagher
Following it’s sold out 2019 season, Lady Tabouli has arrived in the heart of western Sydney, produced by the National Theatre of Parramatta. I’ll begin at the end: an audience enthusiastically cheering after an evening spent on the edge of their seats, witnessing a phenomenal piece of art at Riverside Theatres.
A labour of love by writer James Elazzi, Lady Tabouli takes place in an ordinary Lebanese-Australian home, the morning of a christening. Danny (Antony Makhlouf) is due to be godfather to his sister Josephine’s young son. In between panic over the sugared almonds, their strictly Catholic mother Dana sprays holy water while chattering away to her sister in Lebanon. Uncle Mark attempts to keep some sanity, but suddenly a bombshell is dropped on the family, threatening to tear them apart, but will they even acknowledge it? Asking difficult questions about truth, lies, cultural norms and unconditional love, this is a rollercoaster of emotions you won’t soon forget.
It’s rare that I say this, but it has to be said. The writing in Lady Tabouli is masterful. Easily some of the best to ever grace the Lennox Theatre. The entire time, you truly feel as if you’re peering into a family home, regardless of your family background. To be perfectly honest, even though I’m white as Wonder Bread, the party planning dynamics and petty squabbles over the sugared almonds felt like scenes out of any family. I found myself cringing in sympathy, and not just because I was attending a family christening myself the next day. This was utterly authentic in the best way. Of course, this is also due to the directing. Thespian extraordinaire Dino Dimitriadas who flawlessly directed such wonderful shows as Metamorphoses and Angels in America at the Old Fitz takes the reigns here, again showing what a diverse director he is. Under his hand, the story flows beautifully underneath rapid, often overlapping dialogue which can switch from laugh-out-loud hilarity to sheer devastation in a moment without ever feeling unmerited. I’m sure there are certain jokes and references that only those familiar with Lebanese culture will understand, but regardless, the ethnic heart of the play is far from alienating. These are the stories we’ve always needed to see, and especially in 2020.
The writing and directing is only part of the entire puzzle however, with four immensely talented actors taking on this monumental task. Anthony Makhlouf, Nisrine Amine, Deborah Galanos and Jonny Nasser are professionals of the highest order, navigating delicate and intense situations with dignity and truth. Their heartbreak is so real it’s almost unbearable to watch. Never have I laughed so hard while simultaneously feeling as if my heart was being ripped out. This seemed like a private family crisis we as an audience were intruding on, in the best way.
From a technical point of view, the set, lighting and sound (Jonathan Hindmarsh, Benjamin Brockman and Ben Pierpoint respectively) supports the action on stage without ever getting in the way. I honestly can’t think of any criticisms whatsoever for Lady Tabouli. At all. It was a perfect night at the theatre, and what a way to begin reviewing for 2020.
Dino Dimitriadas’ insightful director’s note in the program says it all. “There’s nothing like coming to the theatre as a group of strangers that walk into a space together to watch the same thing, but who never walk away having actually seen the same thing. Because we’re all a product of our own walk, and the person to my left or right might harbour radically different perspectives on the world, values that don’t align with mine, politics that might enrage me. But for a little while, we’re all just flesh and bones.'
He’s right of course. Either way, Lady Tabouli is unmissable. You must get to Riverside Theatres and see it.
Image Credit: Robert Catto
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.