Printable CopyAMPHIBIAN
Windmill Theatre
The Space
Until 15 Sep 2018

Review by John Wells

Chloe and Hassan are in trouble. A lot of trouble. They have been turfed out of their high school class-room, suspected of nicking the teacher’s wallet. Banished, they pace around the quadrangle, sparring at each other, and slowly, naturally, their stories unfold. Hassan has survived an awful and dangerous journey from Kunduz in Afghanistan to the quiet streets of Adelaide. Chloe is petulantly skeptical, but, as she reflects on her own experiences – she has been dragged away from Sydney when her Dad got a job in Adelaide – she begins to communicate with her wary schoolmate.

“Amphibian” is everything you hope it will be: human, compassionate and full of vigour. The complexity lies beneath the simple, almost stark story-telling. It neither preaches nor overwhelms. It is wonderfully immediate, and (refreshingly) avoids any self-satisfied PC wokeness.

The hard work of the creative team is evident. Director Sasha Zahra balances the two narratives cleanly and clearly. The flashbacks to Hassan’s perilous crossing from Afghanistan, through Pakistan and Indonesia, are handled confidently: direct and sparse. The teenaged squabbling and mis-communication is accurate and funny. Getting the tone right in this show is difficult; Zahra succeeds admirably in crafting a story for young adult audiences that combines humour and sadness without getting overwhelmed by either. She creates an atmosphere of unfussy and unsentimental honesty that serves the writing perfectly.

Playwright Duncan Graham’s writing has a delightful lightness. It carries Hassan’s scarifying, jarring backstory with ease. Graham’s delicate, warm and nuanced treatment allows the implications of this story to seep softly. This is confident and skilled writing, both robust and restrained. Graham and Zahra worked with Afghani refugees during the development of this play; their influence is seen in a production that always feels both imaginative and authentic.

Meg Wilson’s design sets the action in a pastel-hued school-yard, with a crunchy gravel quad. Behind this is an interrogation room, where Hassan must suffer the emotional damage and indignity of telling and re-telling his story. The attractive set suits the action well.

Antony Makhlouf (Hassan) is strong and engaging. He successfully balances Hassan’s harrowing past with his present. There is a palpable sense of loss, with a robust energy for the future. Vocally, Makhlouf is weak at times: he needs to turn up the volume. Maiah Stewardson (Chloe) is perky, pouty and believable. Her uncertain, grudging acceptance of the weirdo refugee kid is moving; her ridiculous Katy Perry moment is hilarious. It is a lovely performance.

This is a marvelously strong and compelling story from Windmill. In a time of us-and-them attitudes, “Amphibian” is an urgently-needed and beautifully-crafted plea for awareness and compassionate action.