A tale of war, loss, and leaving as THEM returns to Melbourne stages

Arts Centre Melbourne in partnership with Critical Stages Touring welcome THEM, a critically acclaimed work by Samah Sabawi, to the Fairfax Studio from July 28-31.

Based on the real life stories of people displaced by conflict, THEM follows one young family as they face the decision whether to flee their war-torn city. Omar, Leila and their young child are counting down the days. Their friends enjoy fantasies of escape and the arrival of Omar’s sister brings a real chance to get out – but at what cost?

Developed in consultation with people living in conflict zones and displaced by war, the play was first supported by Melbourne Theatre Company before enjoying a sell-out extended season at La Mama Theatre.

Playwright Samah Sabawi said:

THEM is a tragicomedy about love, honour and sacrifice in times of violence and war. It follows the lives of five young people and explores the impossible decisions they have to make in the days before a refugee boat sails from their shores to Europe. I wrote the first draft for this play in a hotel room in Finland 2015. At the time, there were protests in the streets of Helsinki by members of the far right – who took the opportunity of marking Finland’s’ National day to demand tighter immigration measures against what they viewed as the wave of invasion of asylum seekers into their country.

One of the protestors in Helsinki called the asylum seekers monkeys, another called them pedophiles and so on. These sentiments were not unique to Finland; the wave of desperate refugees washing up on the shores of Europe have rattled the establishment and have raised questions about the sustainability of the current political and social status quo. The divisive ‘us’ and ‘them’ dehumanizing discourse espoused in that protest is also prevalent in many western liberal nations including here in Australia where during the last several years, I’ve witnessed the rise of similar rhetoric.

Seeking refuge and coming to terms with the effects of displacement is a subject that is deeply relevant to Sabawi as the award-winning Palestinian playwright and her family were exiled in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967. Her experience connects her with the rest of the cast who hail from a range of countries that have been affected by political turmoil.

The ensemble features Osamah Sami, Taj Aldeeb, Mehran Tajbakhsh, Claudia Greenstone, Nahed Elrayes and Adeeb Razzouk.

“I sat down and started imagining what life would have been like for the asylum seekers before they boarded the boats. I was already familiar with the impact of war on ordinary people, especially on women and children in Palestine and in Syria, but when I started writing, my characters refused to be bound to a specific region, added Sabawi.

“I believe this is because people react to war and violence almost in the same way, the same bravery, the same heroism, the same brutal need to survive no matter where they are, what color their skin is or what ethnicity they belong to. From here the title of the play was born. Simply ‘THEM’.”

Originally produced by Lara Week and Samah Sabawi, in collaboration with La Mama Theatre. THEM has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, with the support of La Trobe University, and the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.

For tickets and more information, visit the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Header photo by Justyn Koh

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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