Tales Not To Be Missed

The award-winning Australian play ‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ kicks off its world tour with its first stop in Malaysia.

It’s not often that we get the opportunity to play witness to international standard productions on our shores, let alone one with a social message. So, when a stage play as impactful as Tales of a City by the Sea comes by for a week, it is safe to say that to miss it would be unwise.

An award-winning play, Tales of a City by the Sea is a poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people struggling to find hope and love in areas affected by war and violence. The production tells the story of Jomana, a Palestinian refugee in Gaza who falls in love with Rami, an American-born Palestinian medical doctor and activist who arrives on the Free Gaza boats in August 2008, and the subsequent challenges that they face due to instabilities in the war-torn landscape.

Emina Ashman (right) plays the character of a refugee while Tria Aziz (left) appears as the ‘Spirit of Gaza.’

Conveyed by focusing on the human aspects of survival and tenacity, the love story avoids heavy-handed discussions of politics and ideological agendas, making it palatable for a wide range of audience. Written by Palestinian-Australian-Canadian writer Samah Sabawi, the play is based on real life events, especially a three-week bombardment of Gaza which took place between 2008 and 2009.

Now kicking off its world tour with its first stop in Malaysia, the production has been brought to life by a multi-cultural team from around the world, who believe in the core message behind the bittersweet love story. The two Malaysians performing amongst this diverse cast are Emina Ashman, who plays the character Lama, and Tria Aziz, who will be singing in Arabic as the ‘Spirit of Gaza’.

So naturally Uppre spoke to Emina and Tria not only to find out more about the play but the two local thespians as well.

How did your involvement with Tales of a City by the Sea begin?

Emina Ahsman (EA): I auditioned for it. Back in Australia, I was doing a reading for another play when a friend who knew that I could act and set up an audition for me. I had only three or four days to prepare and once that was over I got a callback the day after. That was really nice.

Tria Aziz (TA): In my case I received a phone call out of nowhere from the production manager. She knew me from my past work and she said that she couldn’t think of anyone else to carry out the singing role in the production because they needed somebody who could read Arabic, which I was able to through my ability to read the Al-Quran. I wasn’t very sure of taking the role until I spoke to the director Wahibe Moussa who assured me that I was the right person.

Emina took an unconventional method of making sandwiches to prepare herself for the role.

Tell us more about your characters in the play.

EA: I play Lama, a vivacious young girl who has lived in Gaza all her life and really wants to escape. She feels trapped and sees herself someplace else in a different kind of reality. So she’s a bit of a dreamer and kind of lives in a bit of fantasy but obviously when the occupation happens she begins to realise her reality and learns to accept it as it. In the play my character goes through quite a few shifts really quickly and grows a lot throughout the story.

TA: The Singer is the storyteller who gels the entire play together and is considered the ‘Spirit of Gaza,’ so I’m not this very human presence but rather ethereal. You will see me but it’ll be very elusive with me coming in and going, on the stage as well as through the audience. All the songs are in Arabic but we’ve also translated a bit of them to Malay so that the viewers would still be able to get a gist of what I sing.

In order to sing her part well, Tria Aziz took Arabic lessons from a Yemeni tutor.

How did you prepare yourselves for this production and your roles?

TA: I hired an Arabic tutor prior to any rehearsals to get my pronunciations correct, which made Wahibe very happy when she heard me live. I really needed that help to put on a good show.

EA: Initially to prepare for the audition we were told to read with an Arabic accent, which I worked on with the help of Youtube videos. However, thankfully along the way we decided it’d be best for the actors to retain our own accents so that we don’t end up ‘othering’ the story from the audience. Apart from that, I listened to a lot of Palestinian music as well, as my character dances on stage quite a bit. Also, I made a lot of sandwiches, a popular Palestinian dish called Musakhan. As an actor I like to come to my role using all my senses and just making the sandwiches with all the spices made me feel more embodied with the character. It’s a bit unconventional.

The production will be the first international venture for Tria while Emina has been part of the cast in Australia.

TA: Speaking of unconventional, prior to everyone coming together to have proper live rehearsals, we also tried to have readings via phone calls and Skype.

EA: (Laughs) Yea but the sound cut out and when she was singing halfway and we couldn’t hear her anymore. Very digital.

The play will be staged at Theatre KuAsh, Pusat Kreatif Kanak-Kanak Tuanku Bainun, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, from 13 – 18 January 2017.

For more information about Tales of a City by the Sea, please visit the official website or the Facebook page.

For ticketing, head to Ticketcharge right here.

Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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