ZAFFE: Event Review

WHAT: Zaffe
WHEN: 5 - 15 October 2023
WHERE: Malthouse Theatre (The Tower)
CONCEIVED & DIRECTED BY: Stephanie Ghajar
CREATED & PERFORMED BY: Taj Aldeeb, Jean Bachoura, Rawya El Chab, Camille El Feghali, St├ęphanie Ghajar, Ayman Kaake, Julia Landberg, Hadi Moussally, Meena Shamaly, Mia Shouha, and Lara Week
DESIGNED BY: Ayman Kaake and Lara Week
LIGHTING BY: Giovanna Yate Gonzalez
STAGE MANAGED BY: Julia Landberg

Meena Shamaly and Jean Bachoura - photo supplied

What is the one thing everyone loves more than a wedding? The wedding party, of course! Zaffe brings you all the fun of a big nuptials event without bothering with the silly detail of someone getting married. Head to the Malthouse Tower this Melbourne Fringe season for fun, dancing, and (hopefully) a little bit of the wedding cake. 

With Zaffe director Stephanie Ghajar and her collaborators allow us the opportunity to experience an ancient culture in its moment of great celebration. The word zaffe is from the middle-east and it refers to a celebratory event which includes music, dance and public participation. A zaffe can take place when escorting important people but is at it's most rousing when it is a wedding party. 

The host, Meena Shamaly (after some rousing call and response) tells us it is a procession. Indeed, as the night goes one we certainly do proceed through activities served like menu courses, until we find ourselves leaving the building, following a Pied Piper out the door. It was almost a shock to suddenly realise I was exiting the building. Now I know how those mice felt!

One of the things I find fascinating about old cultures such as that of the Lebanese, is their understanding that joy and sorrow are just two sides of the same coin at any moment in time. Shamaly explains this, whilst rousing us into a state of primed expectation, exhorting us to dance because we may not be here tomorrow.

On the night I went, Zaffe began late just like every wedding I have ever attended. The wedding cake hadn't arrived and rumours about where it was abounded throughout the night. I'm pretty sure I got 3 different stories whispered to me from people around the room! 

Zaffe had all of the elements of any wedding including announcement about people parked in the wrong spot and we had the wedding band. Camille El Feghali played the Qanun whilst Taj Aldeeb sang a 'completely original' repertoire which all sounded very familiar...'Fever' perhaps, amongst others? They both made sure to spruik their business every chance they got. Oh, and the subtitling was fall on the floor laughingly funny!

Jean Bachoura brings us back to earth gently as he displays family photos. Reminding us that a wedding is about family and the generations before us. He points to the family matriarch in a picture full of people and tells us about how she was one of only 12 out of 40 family members who survived the death marches of the Armenian Genocide at the start of last century. People who know death, know how to party and 'Ammo Jean' brings the fun back as he tries to sell us on his 'not-financial financial advice' business.

Meena Shamaly serenades on the Oud, Rawya El Chab teaches us how to make tabouli, and the wedding cake still hasn't arrived. Salma Zahore invites us to get up and bellydance to techno-trance (if you have a hip scarf bring it and revel in a chance to cut up the dance floor), and yes, the Macarena makes an appearance too. The Lebanese community start dancing in a circle reminding me of the Greek Zorba or perhaps a strange Conga Line for those of us less familiar with these types of traditions. Big drums are promised and big drums ring out around the room.

Eventually the tone settles along with the guests as a hakawati (Ayman Kaake) entrances us with a tale of family and history. He ceremoniously brews a warming beverage to share with the people sitting at his feet.

The night progresses until it is over. A marvellous procession just as Bouchera promised. Remote family members are projected onto the screen across the evening, interspersed with suspicious advertising and links and QR codes to family services. The film work (Hadi Mousally) is very funny and the tables are glorious, decked out with battery operated candles and glorious flowers strewn across stark white table settings. The evening is a rise and fall of voice, bodies, and emotions. 

Zaffe is everything. It is family, community, fun, remembrance, laughter, song, and food. I am going to mark it down a tiny bit for accessibility though. Some people couldn't get up and join the fun on the dance floor and those people missed out on...THE WEDDING CAKE!! Noooooooo! But seriously, Zaffe is an invitation to understand and celebrate Lebanese history and culture. And don't forget your hip scarf ;)

4 Stars

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