Wednesday April 24, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
January 13 2017

HAKAWATI - Sydney Festival and National Theatre of Parramatta at the El Phoenician Restaurant’s private dining room, Church Street, Parramatta, 11-21 January 2017. Photography by James Brickwood/SMH

Since ever human beings got together to fend off the frights of the night, sharing food and stories have been two of our three favourite activities. And once upon a time, in a land far, far away, creator-director Wayne Harrison was eating dinner and enjoying the entertainment. Actually, it was Istanbul and he was listening to a Hakawati – the Arabic word meaning “teller of tales”. Somewhere between the mezza and the baklava a light pinged on in his head...

Fast forward through research into traditional stories, a try-out at playwright Justin Fleming’s house; add some ideas from him, work it through a bit more, engage the interest of Robert Love of Riverside/NTofP and then Wesley Enoch and Sydney Festival and finally, a show is born...

So, an audience of 50 gathers in the private dining room at the El Phoenician in Church Street where a long, white cloth-covered table fills the space. Each place is set with gleaming cutlery, sparkling glasses, a starched white napkin and the implied invitation to talk with one’s neighbours as the first course is served and wine poured.

At either end of the table is a dais surmounted by a thumping great throne-like chair. In between video screens ensure everyone can see whatever might be projected on them (design Martin Kinnane). It’s different, it’s enticing; strangers relax, talk and tuck in.

Enter mistress of the beguiling voice Sandy Gore and the beginning of a series of separate but linked stories. They interweave western Sydney’s suburbs, the Old Country, the immigrant experience, family ties and arguments, recent world history, a talking camel and Kylie Minogue

These are punctuated by three more courses of delicious food in an evening of tales of love, tragedy and misunderstandings with twists and turns, myth and mirth and performances from the brilliant and electrifying Olivia Rose, the laconic and occasionally menacing Sal Sharah and Dorje Michael Swallow who is unsettlingly like the young Johnny Depp to look at and also a witty actor to boot.

Hakawati is an irresistible concept and beautifully realised: who doesn’t love good food, good wine and intriguing stories? Who doesn’t enjoy the company of fine actors? What’s not to like? Rhetorical questions because it’s one of those rare occasions when promise and delivery meet in the middle and create a unique and delightful experience. 

At $75 for an excellent dinner and equally excellent (and unexpected) stories, this is a high class bargain and not to be missed. Food for thought and for the tummy. Yum.



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