From January 11th through to the 21st, the award winning El-Phoenician restaurant will host the National Theatre of Parramatta’s world premiere of Hakawati.

Presented in association with the Sydney Festival and under the direction of former artistic director/CEO of the Sydney Theatre Company, Wayne Harrison AM, Hakawati promises to take an ancient tradition of breaking bread and storytelling, and turn it on its head with a contemporary, subversive, Western Sydney twist. The four performers bringing Hakawati to life are Olivia Rose, Dorjee Michael, Sal Sharah and Sandy Gore.

Speaking to Theatre People shortly after rehearsals commenced, Harrison said he’d decided on the concept for National Theatre of Parramatta’s next presentation last year, while directing the Justin Fleming play Shellshock at Riverside Theatres.

“It was about the centenary commemoration of the ANZAC landings,” Harrison said.

“I had an idea in the presentation of that [play] that I would use Turkish shadow puppets. I did research and then decided that I’d go to Turkey and see the puppet troupes that were operating there, and I did.”

While in Turkey, friends took Harrison to a restaurant hosting a week-long storytelling event.

“This plugged into the Middle Eastern hakawati tradition of the storytellers,” Harrison explained.

“Basically, you sat around having your coffee and some food and, every now and then, these incredible storytellers would sit in a giant, elaborate chair and they would tell stories, not a lot of which I understood, but I got the message of the way that this theatrical form actually communicated and entertained.”


Olivia Rose is one of the four performers who will appear in National Theatre of Parramatta’s Hakawati

In putting together Hakawati, Harrison said he also took inspiration from a performance at the 2015 ‘Bankstown Live’ event.

“There was a presentation there called The Tribe, which was Mohammed Ahmad’s narrative about life with his grandmother and living in Australia, trying to balance tradition with contemporary Australian life,” Harrison recalled.

“We sat in a backyard under a Hills Hoist while the actor was on the back porch of the house in suburban Bankstown, and it was a fantastic theatrical experience.”

Harrison continued: “So, when [Riverside Theatre director] Robert Love asked me to put together a project for the National Theatre of Parramatta here at Riverside, I combined the two experiences I’d had of the hakawati and The Tribe, and decided that I’d really like not to do it in a backyard or a theatre, but in a restaurant – the El-Phoenician restaurant that I’ve eaten at many times here in Parramatta. It’s an institution. I thought it might be fun to explore what happens when you put food and food for thought together in a theatrical event.”

Harrison said, so far, the process of bringing the elements together to make Hakawati a reality had been “incredibly enjoyable” and that audiences are in for a memorable evening at the El-Phoenician.

“It’s not quite theatre restaurant,” Harrison said.

“The format, in essence, is quite simple. You get some food and then you get a story and you get some more food and then you get a story… You get four courses and four stories.”

“The traditional hakawatis … plugged into the mythology and the legends of the 1001 Nights and that kind of story, but they were very cheeky, in that they changed some of the details to have a contemporary spin on a few things,” Harrison told Theatre People.

“They weren’t quite The Wharf Revue, but they were known a little bit for their satire in sending up the rulers or the bureaucrats. They were entertaining on a legendary level, but then having a little bit of a dig at the way contemporary society worked.

“And that’s what we’re doing, but we’re doing it in reverse. We’re telling contemporary stories that have a mythical dimension to them as well, and that’s been really fun working with the actors and the dramaturgs on developing these stories which we hope, in the first instance, will be entertaining, but then maybe they have another level that’s a bit more serious about the way we live our lives in Sydney – particularly, in Western Sydney – at this particular time.”



Where: El-Phoenician – 328 Church St, Parramatta

When: Preview 11 January at 7pm
12 and 13 January at 6.30pm
14 January at 1pm and 6.30pm
15 January at 6.30pm
17–21 January at 8.30pm
18 and 21 January also at 1pm

Duration: 160 mins 

Tickets: $75 including meal | $65 preview show

Bookings: Sydney Festival on 1300 856 876 or