Migrant tale is warm, rich and inviting

1 May 2023

Not Far from the Tree is a meditation on third culture kid identity, explored through stories of family and warm hospitality. Claire Trolio enjoys breaking bread during this semi-autobiographical tale.

Not Far from the Tree, Sabrina Hafid
The Blue Room Theatre, 28 April 2023

Doesn’t it feel such an honour to be invited to share someone’s culture? To be welcomed into their home and partake in a meal, to hear stories about another place, another way of life. To celebrate similarities and differences?

This generosity is extended in Not Far from the Tree, a new play written and performed by Sabrina Hafid. It’s a warm and rich, semi-autobiographical tale of her place in an Algerian-Australian family.

Hafid plays an unnamed character born in Australia, so just how much of the story is about her own life is ambiguous. This invites the viewer to listen and also connect, drawing on their own experiences. I can attest that some threads will be familiar to other third culture kids. Others are illuminating.

It certainly feels personal. Hafid delivers with no regard for a fourth wall. She tells stories, addresses the audience and literally breaks bread with them. After mixing and kneading dough as the threads of her stories are also brought together, Hafid brings out an electric frypan. With the scent of kesra (an Algerian flatbread) wafting through the theatre, Not Far from the Tree is warm and inviting. (Yes, we got to eat it.)

Video projection is used to compound that personal nature, with rough, handheld footage of Algerian women making kesra. We presume it’s Hafid’s family and the political protests she speaks of.

Character dancing, arms in the air, on stage in a kitchen in Not Far from the Tree.
Sabrina Hafid’s character in ‘Not Far from the Tree’ dances around the kitchen. Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

The set from Nikita Bernardo is also intimate, with the backdrop of a family kitchen, complete with spices and saucepans and family photographs. As the audience takes their seats around a thrust stage, a suitcase hangs ajar, suspended by a rope from the ceiling. There’s a feeling of displacement and migration, setting the scene for what’s to come.

Not Far from the Tree is less about the young woman directly and more about family, told through three main narratives: the Algerian-born father, an Australian-born sister and the political landscape of Algeria in the 1990s – 2000s.

The work asks how much of our parents and their lives before us do we carry within ourselves? It goes further than contemplating our upbringing and presents our ancestral past as mythology that becomes a part of our sense of self.

This idea can be seen in the way the narrative of the father is presented. An allegorical style evoking a fairy tale, Hafid transports us back to Algeria in the 1990s as two brothers listen to the radio and wonder about the world and their lives within it. It’s romantic, but not romanticised as corruption and poverty creep in.

After migrating to Australia, the father’s narrative turns into a diary-style recital of his life in Australia. A gruelling and at times shocking schedule with responsibilities to family at home and abroad.

There’s a good dose of humour too, her 12-year-old sister’s story is told through Hafid’s portrayal of her younger sibling and her Google search history. There’s her love of Lizzo, a strong belief in social justice and exploration of her curly-haired appearance.

The politics of Algeria and related corruption are told through puppetry. Though this section would benefit from tightening up, Hafid’s presentation of corruption using humour is shrewd.

Under Laura Liu’s direction, the different storytelling modes in Not Far from the Tree are not disjointed but cyclical and progressional.

Not Far from the Tree offers a benignant presentation of intergenerational migrant identity with maturity and spark. Thanks for your hospitality, Sabrina.

Pictured top: Sabrina Hafid’s character makes kesra, an Algerian flatbread, on stage during ‘Not Far from the Tree’. Photo: Mustafa Al Mahdi

Not Far From the Tree continues at The Blue Room Theatre until 6 May 2023.

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

Past Articles

  • Gentle touch guides lunar landing 

    Balancing weight with whimsy, this children’s theatre work strikes the right chord for its target audience, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Next-gen theatre makers impress

    From the fresh and funny to the weird and wonderful, WAAPA’s Performance Making students bring fresh, incisive work at full tilt, writes Claire Trolio.

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