Saturday 16 March 2019

The Belly Dancer - Theatre Review

What: The Belly Dancer
When: 15 - 18 March 2019
Where: The Engine Room
Written by: Jacob Honeychurch Megan J Riedl
Directed by: Alise Amarant
Performed by: Saari Frochot-Chauhan, Elliott Gale, and Marjan Maleki
Choreography by: Saari Frochot-Chauhan
Set by: Alise Amarant and Megan Reidl
Elliott Gale, Saari Frochot-Chauhan, and Marjan Maleki
Ten years after the Cronulla riots erupted in Sydney, Bendigo was rocked by their own alt-right crisis over plans to build a mosque for the Islam community. Three more years have passed and whilst the wounds are healing, the Central Victorian community still lives in the pain and aftermath of the ideological violence of those encounters. The Belly Dancer is an attempt by members of the community to make sense of what has happened, and is being performed in The Engine Room this weekend.

The play itself is a great beginning for what could eventually be a work of importance although right now I don't think it is quite the instrument of healing they perhaps hoped for. It is highly expository and this aspect is highlighted rather than ameliorated by Amarant's direction which makes it feel like a lecture being given by a parent. Regardless of the perceived value or validity of the commentary, it will have the effect of closing down the receptiveness of the audience in it's current form.

Another difficulty is it has conflated family violence with racial violence and in the current iteration implies the alt-right protestors were/are wife beaters. I don't think this is what they were going for. Rather, I think the intention was to say that violence is often a result of fear but intention does not always meet outcome.

I would love to see this play rewritten and produced again at some point after some dramaturgy. Perhaps another character - a friend and cohort of Dave (Gale) - who is forced to help Rubina (Maleki) help Frochot-Chauhan' character. It would also allow the interesting back story of how Dave's controlling behaviour is destroying his work life as well as his personal life.

I guess for me the decision needs to made about whether this play is about the mosque protests or domestic violence. Whilst both types of violence perhaps come from a place of fear (?), it is not the same place and care needs to be taken about conflating the two. This is especially important as Australia now tries to make sense of the shootings in Christchurch this week.

Whilst I did not find the direction particularly inspiring, I did very much enjoy the performances by Gale and Maleki, and I used to belly dance myself so Frochot-Chauhan's dancing touched me deeply - especially the scarf dance.

2 Stars

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