Printable CopyAZZA
The Adelaide Festival
The Space
Until 18 Mar 2018

Review by John Wells

The six mourners shuffle in, raising a hand and tap-tapping their hearts. They nod, hug, smile and cry almost imperceptibly. This is the azza, the three-day funeral ritual. It is a time of reflection, meditation and celebration. There is continual, muted movement: the relentless trudge towards death. A soft, swaying chorus asking for mercy.

The Palestinian ShiberHur Theatre Company’s quietly bracing and gentle play, reflects not on lives cut short by war and fighting, but on the end of a life well-lived. There is no mention or reference to the ever-present conflicts that wrack the Middle East. The deceased is an old man, who died after a long illness. This is a perceptive and conscious choice: we see a simple sadness surrounded by, but separate from, the region’s political conflicts. This azza connects the mourners to thousands of years of life and death.

Amir Nazir Zuabi’s text combines the sadness of the funeral rite with intimate and comic stories about the dead man. They illuminate his life and bring the mourners together in melancholic warmth. There are charming anecdotes about a naked dive into a reservoir, a spectacularly airborne donkey, the failed medical student and the rich, Cadillac-driving man who becomes a dismal bankrupt. In the midst of the memories, there is the chafing conflict between the dead man’s two sons, one who left the village to seek his fortune, and the other who stayed and nursed his father. These are beautiful observations of the tensions and consolations of family. Hovering nearby is a spectre of death, gleefully inviting the living into the realm of the dead.

The simple staging is tellingly effective. Plastic chairs are lined up under a hessian shroud. The chairs are stacked and unstacked. The subtle lighting beams across the actors. The design and movement evoke the constancy of death and the shadowy possibilities of an unknown afterlife.