Having known Omar Musa since he was a very small boy, lived in the same town, and swum in the same river that inspires much of his writing, it was a compelling, occasionally confronting, often moving experience, to experience his superbly written and stunningly articulated descriptions of his experiences growing up in Queanbeyan.
However, you don’t have to have lived in Queanbeyan to appreciate the forensic accuracy with which Musa describes his observations of life as a Muslim boy living in a country town where his school playmates tell him his skin is the colour of shit.
Inspired by his response to the death of his hero, Muhammad Ali, he describes how his best friend, Danny, with a background very different to his own, introduces him to the temptations a seamy world that would horrify his devout Muslim father, who insisted that Musa and his mother, join him in ever-longer daily prayer sessions reading from holy books he could not understand.
It was these unintelligible prayer sessions, together with the advice given by his mother as she drove him to school each day, to “question everything”, that inspired his curiosity and love of words, which he now chooses with devastating effect to question and describe, in artfully constructed poems and songs, his responses to the mysteries of life, love and the whole damn cacophony.
Musa is a charismatic presence. There’s no sign of a chip on his shoulder as he questions the status quo. His observations are often brutally frank and sometimes uncomfortable to listen to, but undeniably recognizable in their truthfulness. Presented with excellent backing tapes, moody lighting, and perhaps a little too loud microphones, his performance sizzles with passion, humour and curiosity, occasionally vacillating unexpectedly between playfulness and rage.
It’s a performance so compelling that the introduction of a female backup singer for a couple of the songs seemed an unwelcome distraction, which added little except interrupt the carefully achieved rhythm of Anthea Williams otherwise unobtrusive and thoughtful direction.
This show was recently awarded a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Cabaret Production. That won’t be the only award it receives. Intelligent, well-written and superbly performed, Since Ali Died is also an original and stimulating piece of theatre which should be seen by anyone interested in questioning their place in an increasingly complex world.
Since Ali Died
Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 30 January 2019
Season: 30 January – 2 February 2019
Information and Bookings: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au
Image: Omar Musa – photo by Robert Catto
Review: Bill Stephens OAM