Neda Rahmani tells stories about her family. Her stories aren’t extraordinary. Good stories rarely are. But they are honest and open and share the good times and the bad.
What is extraordinary is that she tells her stories in her home around a dinner table that’s filled with strangers and friends who have come along for a night of theatre. Cherry, Cherry was first experienced in 2011 and if, like me, you missed it and heard that it was unmissable, book today and hope there’s a a spare seat or two.
Neda was born in Iran and grew up in Melbourne. Her father is Persian and her mother is Maritian. She asks her guests if her voice sounds Australian. It does. She’s a performer and percussionist and lives in the Northcote house her parents bought. It’s a great home with a kitchen made for having guests and a garden that grows a lot of the food she shares with guests. The last time she held this dinner in Melbourne, she lived in a loft in Thornbury. She’s also hosted dinners in other suburbs and in Sydney, Canberra and Perth.
The guests (there’s no audience here) are welcomed by the A is for Atlas team, who conceived this experience, help cook, serve drinks and ensure that no one is left awkwardly in a corner. From pre-dinner drinks to a delicious meal of lentils, rice, vegies and salad (the only animal is prawn, which is easily refused), and after-dinner coffee and biscuits, Neda talks to her guests.
She talks about having a father who wasn’t able to be close to his children, she shares a recipe for lemon chilli (that left me tearing up in all the good ways), she says how she was scared to wear her usual short costume at the Speigeltent because she was meeting a cousin, she talks about some of her relative’s reactions to her not being married to her partner, she shows us Iranian and Mauritian drums that look identical but in one country women can’t touch them, she shows us what she does with sick bags on planes, she hands around photos and a knitted alligator puppet, and she sings, plays and dances.
Her stories are not extraordinary. They are as ordinary as yours or mine, and that’s what makes the night such an extraordinary experience.
The barriers are dismantled and any concept of theatre or performance disappears as easily as the first drink. It’s about sharing and talking and finding connections that we didn’t know existed.
Being an opening night, I recognised faces but I sat next to a retired couple who had read about Cherry, Cherry in The Age and booked their tickets because it looked different and fun. They told me that they hate going to the theatre if they know what it’s going to be like and don’t see the point if you don’t want to talk about it afterwards, and tell your friends to go so that you can talk about it with them. They also drove from the coast for the experience and were thrilled that they’d done so.
Who needs reviews when you have an audience like this.
Come to dinner. You will feel welcome and you will meet and talk to people you didn’t know. How often do you leave a theatre foyer having made new friends?
There are dinners next weekend and, if you’re in Sydney, Neda’s coming to the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in August.
GREAT NEWS: Extra dates on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 March. All others are sold out.