Sami in Paradise

Sami in Paradise
Based on The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman. Adapted by Eamon Flack and The Company. Belvoir Theatre, Sydney. Director: Eamon Flack. 1–29 April 2018

There was a real crackle of enthusiasm in the run-up to the official opening performance of this play at the Belvoir. Written in 1928, Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide is considered one of the finest comedies to have emerged from the early phase of Communist Russia. Never, to this day, played in Russia, it remains happily, blissfully above the run of normal drama — a real one-off. 

Eamon Flack, Artistic Director of the Belvoir, has set it in a refugee camp named Paradise – nothing to do with Manus Island, we are cheerfully warned — amid blanket walls and scavenged shoes. He’s probably wisely renamed it Sami in Paradise, and we watch as his main character, Sami Bazzi, begins to learn to play the tuba, but looses all confidence in his circumstances and announces that he intends to commit suicide.

Surrounded by a ragbag selection of people, some of who have been in the camp for most of their lives, Sami discovers that his life in the camp is worth little or nothing. And it’s here that the production really scores, with 12 actors playing more than two characters each, in a busy bustle of well-rehearsed daily life.

Sami (Yalin Ozucelik) has a wife, Maria (Victoria Haralabidou) and a mother-in-law, Fima (Paula Arundell). They are all exceptional, quick and busy, and directed by Flack to within an inch of their lives.

Charlie Garber is a white South African man trying, hilariously, to start his own Non-Governmental Organisation. Mandela Mathia, from South Sudan, contributes some brilliant announcements on the camp radio. Nancy Denis, a Haitian, makes her mark as a hugely inflated official. Vaishnavi Suryaprakash plays at least four parts, each to perfection.

Set and Costume are designed by Dale Ferguson, Lighting by Verity Hampson and Musical Direction and Composition by Jethro Woodward. Bravo.

Frank Hatherley

Photographer: Clare Hawley

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