It is the hope of every playwright to create a work that will be performed for years and across the world, as it connects to and has consequence for a wide audience. In this, plays are intended to be (and usually are) timeless and universal, as their themes remain relevant and the problems remain prevalent across the world. Windmill Theatre’s new production Amphibian is no future canonical classic, but definitely has the potential to remain an enduring piece of theatre if the important issues addressed on stage aren’t addressed in the real world.
Amphibian tells the story of two contrasting, clashing classmates Chloe and Hassan, sent outside for 50 minutes to work out who is to blame for stealing money from their teacher while they were feeding the class axolotl. The two quickly discover they aren’t so different and have both been forced by their families to leave their homes and start fresh in a new place. From here, the stage transcends time and space and the audience become witness to Hassan’s unbelievable solo journey from Afghanistan to Australia as a child refugee, searching for a better life.
Playwright Duncan Graham and director Sasha Zahra began dually developing this commissioned touring work in 2016, researching, interviewing, and consulting with a wide variety of sources from school children to refugees. What they created out of this process is a very significant show about displacement, adapting, loss, truth, choice, empathy and relationships; a show that has interestingly has stayed significant some years since it was developed, speaking to how so little has changed socially in our world. The script was well written, with modern references to appeal to the young target audience, and moments of humour throughout to break the tension of Hassan’s tale that was built through a slow reveal.
The two performers Antony Makhlouf and Maiah Stewardson were well rehearsed in their seamless transitions between scenes, and did an admirable job of bringing their character’s to life. Makhlouf as Hassan had some moving moments retelling his characters harrowing journey and had the audience in fits with his realistic impression of Chloe’s best friend Eleni. Stewardson brought excellent energy to her multiple characters; as lead Chloë and the Brazilian Tree Hopper she was endearing, her Katy Perry impersonation was comedic, and her physical portrayal of Hassan’s Afghan friend Delara and her role as immigration case officer Janet were believable. The local voice actors were also incredible realistic and saw for accurate cultural representations of Afghani characters such as Hassan’s family who speak Farsi.
As expected from a Windmill production, all the design elements were excellent, however the execution was not flawless. The abstract set design by Meg Wilson was visually engaging, featuring lots of pastel colours and physical elements that allow the story to move through space and time, the most notable being a floor of pebbles to represent the school quad, the desert and the coastline. Wilson’s costumes were also transitional, being classic public school uniforms that were the base for any other changes. The lighting and audio-visual projections by Mark Pennington paired with Ian Moorhead’s sound and music allowed the audience to fully realise the play’s multiple settings and the mood intended for every moment. However, Pennington’s live onstage video projections were not successfully shown at first with some technical difficulties towards the start. When corrected, they were very effective in portraying Hassan’s experience, and enabling audience members with obstructed sight lines due to the structure of the set to see.
Overall, in a world where 12-year-old refugees are currently setting themselves alight, Amphibian is a very timely production. This play shows the audience the heart-wrenching reality of the journey some children are forced to make often on their own, one that has been conveniently hidden or overlooked for too long. Admittedly at times, Hassan’s story felt a little improbable in being so jam-packed with hardships, but perhaps this judgment in itself demonstrates why shows like this are important to expose these experiences to those who might be uninformed like me. With its language and adult themes, Windmill Theatre’s Amphibian is targeted more at teens than children but is vital viewing for those of almost any age, as it will, as intended by Graham and Zahra, “stimulate ideas, conversations and action towards a more compassionate future” (Zahra, Director’s Note).
Rating: 3.5 stars
Amphibian was reviewed on opening night 7th of September 2018 at 7pm at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre. It is showing until the 15th of September 2018 – for specific dates and times, more information and access to tickets, click here.
Thumbnail image from Adelaide Festival Centre site