This month, Belvoir St Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Sami in Paradise: a play that reminds us of our common humanity through the hilarious misfortunes confronted by a refugee called Sami. Based on Nikolai Erdman’s iconic 1928 play The Suicide, Sami in Paradise adapts the original play’s oppressive Stalinist Russia setting, to a contemporary nameless refugee camp. It would seem that little could be funny about a play set in a refugee camp. Yet, Director Eamon Flack’s sharp wit, filled with irony and subversions, humanises the inhumane suffering of stateless peoples.
Flack, who is both the play’s Director and Belvoir St Theatre Artistic Director, said, “the play is about the idea that no human is better than any other human, and even if you are robbed of all the basics of your life and all of your dignity, it doesn’t mean you are less than anyone else”.
Sami in Paradise follows the protagonist Sami, as he navigates the unfortunate irony of being compelled to commit suicide in the name of various competing causes. Amidst hopeless desperation, Sami turns to learning the trombone, in what becomes a tragically hilarious mistake of Sami ultimately attending his own funeral.
The selfish pleas of non-governmental aid organisations, writers and religious leaders, for Sami to commit suicide on behalf of their cause, evokes a relatable human desperation. One scene shows the aid worker’s hilarious harassment of Sami to attribute the organisation’s cause in his suicide note. Their pleas seem ridiculously perverse, yet speak to a surprisingly familiar selfishness. Sami in Paradise uses clever comic effect to remind us that, sometimes, we truly are as selfish as those encouraging Sami’s suicide.
Through voicing a typically silenced group of people, Flack humanises refugees through complex representations which challenge one-dimensional, pitiful portrayals. Sami shares the same anxieties, frustrations and dreams as those of us privileged to have the security of a home. He humorously whinges about his mother-in-law, argues relentlessly with his wife, constantly craves approval and obsessively worries about his future.
Flack said, “this isn’t a play about other people and other places, it’s a play for anyone who wakes up in the middle of the night feeling a bit worried about the future”. In other words, Sami in Paradise is a play for all of us. In suggesting that perhaps we aren’t as different from each other as we first thought, the play fosters an empathy that is vital for grappling with issues as damaging to humanity as the refugee crisis, and as mundane as Sami’s frustrations of learning how to play the trombone.
Sami in Paradise will be showing in Belvoir St Theatre until the 29th of April.