Lady Tabouli is the latest piece by Lebanese Australian playwright, James Elazzi. Last year, it played to a sold-out crowd at Griffin Theatre Company’s BATCH Festival and, under the direction of Dino Dimitriadis, it is now playing at Riverside Theatres in a production presented by National Theatre of Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival 2020.

Lady Tabouli tells a story of a local Lebanese Australian family. Danny (Antony Makhlouf) is a young man who’s recently returned home to live with his religious mother, Dana (Deborah Galanos). This followed his decision to call off his engagement, the true motive for which remains unclear to his family.

On the day the audience meets these characters, they’re feverishly preparing for the baptism of Danny’s nephew. His sister, Josephine (Nisrine Amine), has asked Danny to be the child’s godfather. As the christening approaches, she’s highly strung, steadfastly focussed on ensuring every detail is perfect, down to the sugared almonds.

But, during the course of preparations, the true reason for Danny choosing to end his engagement is revealed, and while the revelation is initially ignored, it becomes the source of a chasm that blows the family part. In fact, it may cost him his closest familial relationships, demonstrating that those deeply important ties do come with strings attached.

Lady Tabouli is a skilfully written and provocative work that examines what can happen when culture and sexuality collide. The isolation and desertion members of the LGBTQ community may face when they fail to meet the long-held expectations of their families is real. This is a searing portrait of a man who, in an instant, watches as his tightknit family disintegrates. Just like Elazzi’s wonderful Omar and Dawn, it tells a not-often foregrounded story of rejection to which many Australians, unfortunately, can continue to relate in the 21st century.

Dimitriadis is one of the best directors working on Sydney stages today and his leadership of this production ensures Elazzi’s text is brought to life. The 90-minute presentation unfolds in the manic pace of its setting in the first act, while is tauter and managed in the second. There was a great deal of recognition in the scenarios on stage with many audience members. And, as well as the drama, there’s also a good dose of humour in the script.

Each cast member is an asset to this production. Makhlouf is excellent as Danny, realistically voicing the character’s angst, his frustration and, ultimately, his courage. Danny’s journey is clearly troubling but, because of Makhlouf’s performance, the audience stays with him the whole way. Galanos is terrific as the family’s matriarch, who loves her children deeply but refuses to compromise her beliefs to offer that love unconditionally. Amine is similarly ideally cast as Josephine who, like her mother, is unflinching in her view as to the consequences of Danny’s disclosure. Completing the strong foursome is Johnny Nasser, who plays Danny’s uncle, Mark, and later makes an appearance as an iconic Lebanese singer with whose music Danny and Josephine grew up.

Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set is a keenly detailed realisation of two rooms in the family home and is complemented by Benjamin Brockman’s expert use of lights, which are vital in moving us from the physical world into Danny’s subconscious. Ben Pierpoint’s music is often purposely unsettling, and there’s a sense created of the score reflecting the cacophony of sound we imagine in Danny’s head.

National Theatre of Parramatta has commenced its fifth annual season with one of its finest productions to date, written by one of the most promising up-and-coming writers on the Sydney theatre scene. Lady Tabouli reminds us of the firmly rooted and destructive attitudes that drive barriers between family members and make love hinge on adherence to strict conservative doctrine. Highly recommended.

Photo credit: Robert Catto


Remaining dates and times:
Friday 17 January 2020 at 7:45pm
Saturday 18 January 2020 at 2:30pm and 7:45pm
Venue: Riverside Theatres (Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta)
Tickets: Adult $59; Concession $55.
Bookings: online here or from the box office on (02) 8839 3399
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60