Windmill Theatre Co goes back to school for Amphibian

Amphibian is an important topical human story from Windmill Theatre Co about discovering a journey a young teen had to make for a new life in a new country.

In development for nearly two years, Amphibian sees Windmill go outside its creative in-house team for its latest schoolyard opus. Artistic director Rosemary Myers approached freelance director Sasha Zahra (The Book of Loco) and playwright Duncan Graham (Cut, Angelique) to pitch and create a touring piece aimed at young teenagers.

“Duncan and I have known each other for a long time but never worked together,” Zahra says. “It was Rose’s [Myers] idea to pop the two of us in a room. She said, ‘Look we’d really like to work with both of you. Are you interested in spending some together to pitch a new show?’

“I think Rose has engaged a whole new team [for Amphibian],” Zahra continues. “She’s an amazing director and the Windmill style is known and loved, but there have always been other artistic teams that have come on board to do things more in their style, this is a little bit of a sidestep as well. Duncan is an accomplished and amazing playwright. It’s still an incredibly visual, witty and engaging piece, and, to me, that’s what’s amazing about Windmill’s work. It’s a different team. It’s taken a long time to develop, to make a new work takes time, but it’s been brilliant to have that support from the very first idea to now.”

Graham and Zahra were originally given a week to come up with a concept. Slightly based on a New York Times article about a 14-year-old boy who arrived at a refugee camp in Calais, France on his way to the UK.

“We made a conscious decision to bring it back home in a sense and make the journey to Australia,” Zahra says of changing the play’s location from London to Adelaide.

Amphibian’s two high school protagonists are Hassan (Antony Makhlouf ) and Chloe (Maiah Stewardson) who are sent outside after being accused of stealing money while feeding the class axolotl. It is in the school’s quadrangle that the pair discovers they are both recent arrivals, as Chloe’s parents moved to Adelaide from Sydney while Hassan is an Afghan refugee who travelled to Australia alone in search of a better life.

“We worked really closely with two cultural associates from Afghanistan who have remained really important to the project, Muzafar Ali and Elyas Alavi,” Zahra says. “They are now settled in Australia and were amazing at sharing their stories and helping us map what the journey would have been like [for Hassan] and how that happened.”

The 50-minute play tells the schoolyard-set story in real time but the production shows flashbacks of Hassan’s journey and his previous life in Afghanistan via sound, AV and a clever set designed by another Windmill ring-in, Meg Wilson. Despite the topical political edge about the journeys people make to seek asylum, Zahra says Amphibian is a human story at its core that, like many other Windmill productions, is about the acceptance of others.

“These two young people from different backgrounds find themselves at a new school,” says Zahra. “They have been uprooted from their homes and are now in this situation and are struggling with it. Ultimately, it’s about how we accept each other no matter what. Obviously, the nature of the story means it might have a slight political edge but we’re presenting it as a human story.”

Amphibian is supported by an interactive story called Across Land and Sea: Muazafar’s True Story, which is on the Windmill website. It shows the difficult journey Amphibian’s cultural associate Muzafar Ali had to make when he decided to leave Afghanistan for Australia.

Amphibian
Space Theatre
Wednesday, September 5 to Saturday, September 15
windmill.org.au

Photography: Sia Duff

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