How familiar for a child to ask his grandfather what it was like when he was young.
What if the grandfather was in Auschwitz just because he was a Gypsy? Would his story be so different from that of Ari’s, the newly orphaned Afghan refugee, just two years out of detention, about to share a house with the boy and his grandfather while his visa is in limbo, stamped “temporary”?
Both the refugee and the grandfather shared barbed wire; both shared starvation, though one sewed his lips together in protest. What happened in Hitler’s Germany is something we hope we never have to witness again, but in some ways, we’re witnessing it now.
Beautiful Words is a story about refugees, spanning almost a century and traversing the world. It’s told in three nearly disparate parts, yet the parts – through clever scriptwriting and a clear drive to give a message of hope – collide: historically, thematically and through the plot. And the script ought to be clever; it’s taken years of interviews with, and commissioned writing from, actual refugees to get it right.
The South Australian Youth Arts company should be proud of taking on this ambitious play (written and directed by Sean Riley). The message is important.
The Goodwood Institute was packed, with barely a seat left empty, and many audience members were high school students taking notes. I expect this will be the case for the next two nights, as the play has obviously struck a chord with teachers.
What Beautiful Words does is remind us that if we can try to understand history, we might learn to understand the present. So yes, let’s make sure we keep telling the stories of Nazi camp survivors. And as Ari said of his detention camp: “There is so much remembering here, but no one wants to hear our stories.”
So please, let’s make sure we listen. Bravo to SAYarts for making sure history’s stories have been resurrected and placed alongside modern-day tales of atrocity and injustice. People are people: don’t we know this yet?
I must tell you that the play is two-and-a-half hours long. It’s too long. It’s unfortunately so painfully long that I’d even say it might have been worth cutting the ridiculously humorous second act out just to save 30 minutes. But it would be blasphemy for me to say that as said act is, indeed, ridiculously humorous and gives the audience a chance to laugh at and embrace Australia in a play that is ultimately critical of it. Just remember: it’s long.
Beautiful Words will be presented again on February 18, 19 and 20 (shows at 10am and 7pm). Saturday night’s show is already sold out.