The cast of Parah | Visy Theatre

In the beginning was the word …

And when the word, or even the Word, is dropped into a still pond, its influence ripples outward and can irritate all kinds of hidden sores.

Four teenage students in racially-tolerant Malaysia — one Malaysian girl, one orphaned Malaysian boy, one Indian and one Chinese — make up a carefree, happy and close-knit gang as rambunctious as any group of 17-year-olds, hooning around, eyeing off the new female teacher, slagging off at each other, but always caring deeply for each other. Then they are set a novel called Interlok to read in class, and the girl Melur discovers that a page has been torn out of her mother’s copy which she is reading. Fascinated, they all try to find out what was on the written page, and finally discover that it contained a passage that compared Indians to goats, and uses the word parah, meaning pariah, to refer to them. The Indian boy, Mahesh, immediately takes exception to this, and tries to have the book banned in the school.

As the four students debate what they should do, Mahesh finally gets the other three Indian students in the class to complain to the principal, and the issue escalates until the police are brought in.  Then the four fall out with each other, over who has minority and/or victim status in society, and painfully the group is torn apart.

This is a brilliant little piece, performed simply with such endearing good humour by the four actors, that when they finally turn on each other, we wonder if things were ever thus, and if it’s a problem in all multi-cultural societies, especially our own.

… In the beginning was the word, and the word was: race.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the World Theatre Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse. It offers new works from Belgium, Ireland, Iran, Germany, USA, as well as a number of works in progress. Get amongst it.

The details: Parah plays the Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the World Theatre Festival until February 17. Tickets on the venue website.

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