Once controversial, now a lesson for all

42 years after Alex Buzo’s Norm And Ahmed was at the centre of a sensational censorship battle over its controversial ending, this tour de force of Australian theatre that addresses issues about male aggression and racism is more compelling than ever for a nation presently faced with the challenges of identity and tolerance.

The critically acclaimed Norm And Ahmed is playing at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta from June 8 to June 11 with performance times also included for the Riverside Education season.

Norm, a middle-aged, working class war veteran meets Ahmed, a Pakistani university student late at night on a deserted city street and a sharp and witty dialogue ensues. In a tension-fuelled, but often amusing game of cat and mouse, “Aussie” Norm is confronted with his worst nightmare an intelligent, articulate and attractive ethnic young man. Buzo’s encounter between Norm and Ahmed exposes Australian life to be full of contradiction, questionable values and an increasingly multicultural social fabric.

Time and time again today’s audience members who are new to the work are unnerved when they realise Norm And Ahmed is a 40-year-old play. The backdrop of contentious current events such as the attacks on international students, the Haneef saga, the Cronulla riots and the backlash against the Muslim school in Camden fuels a new wave of relevance for the play.

“I never tire of being in the audience with people who are seeing this gem of a play for the first time,” said Producer, Emma Buzo.

“I love the laughter, the gasps and when the lights go up after the surprising ending, how people immediately want to talk about the questions it raises. I have fond memories of being in theatre foyers with my father over the years and people bailing him up, demanding to know why Norm did what he did. Now, when people do this to me, I always respond in exactly the same way my father did – with another question: What do you think?”

Director Aarne Neeme is acutely aware of the powerful relevance of Norm And Ahmed and has set the action in the present day, changing Norm, played by Laurence Coy, from a WWII veteran to a Vietnam veteran and giving Ahmed, played by Craig Meneaud a backpack instead of a briefcase.

Norm And Ahmed is a prized Australian work and epitomises the very essence of theatre as it is both thoroughly entertaining and dares the audience to reflect on their beliefs,” said Director of Riverside Theatres, Robert Love.

“Perhaps the most extraordinary part about Buzo’s gutsy play is that Norm And Ahmed’s examination of Australian values and conventional belief systems is still as relevant as it was over forty years ago. Riverside Theatres is proud to have Norm And Ahmed as part of the Riverside Theatres Education season.

Norm And Ahmed is a watershed work. It was one of the first plays to link male aggression with insecurity and challenge popular Australian notions such as the Great Australian Dream, mateship, the “fair go” and the ANZAC legend. An encounter between an urban, middle-aged blue-collar Aussie bloke and an articulate young Pakistani man living in Australia to attend university represented a slice of Australian life unseen in Australian theatre in the late sixties. The notorious censorship battle that followed over Norm And Ahmed’s premiere shot the play’s young author, Alex Buzo to fame and Australian contemporary theatre hit the headlines for the very first time. The censorship battle was fought across three states and the play was banned in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Ironically and amusingly, the play is now a set text for NSW HSC Drama students.

Laurence Coy’s first professional theatre role was as Harry the convict in Alex Buzo’s Macquarie in 1984. Since then he has worked for all the State Theatre Companies in Australia, Bell Shakespeare, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney Festivals, Marian St, Q Theatre and for many commercial and independent producers. His recent theatre credits include Angels in America at Riverside and Shining City and Bugat the Stables Theatre.

Multi-talented Craig Meneaud is trained as an actor and also has a Bachelor of Business degree and teaches Business, Marketing and Events Management. His recent credits include Homebody/Kabul at Belvoir St Theatre and a guest role in the television series Sea Patrol. He is about to play two different roles in The Alex Buzo Company and Riverside Theatres’ production of Macquarie in July 2010.

The Alex Buzo Company is a young and energetic arts organisation founded in 2007 by Emma Buzo, the daughter of acclaimed Australian playwright and author Alex Buzo, shortly after he died prematurely in 2006. The company is dedicated to reinventing his extraordinary canon for contemporary audiences and upholding the spirit Alex Buzo’s achievements, who believed that the arts were vital not only for encouraging reflection and self awareness, but for helping to make life in Australia more enjoyable.

Norm And Ahmed bookings: (02) 8839 3399.

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