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Belgrade Theatre Review: The Bone Sparrow


The Bone Sparrow, Belgrade Theatre, until Saturday, 26 March

By Ashley Hayward

This play is an adaptation of Zana Fraillon’s award winning novel concerning the plight of the Rohingya people.

We meet Subhi who is in an Australian refugee camp because his mother fled the violencet in this far distant land.

He was born in the camp and all he knows of the world is that he is 21 ‘fence diamonds’ high and that the ‘nice jackets’ or ‘human rightists’ never stay very long which is unfortunate because the refugees get far better food when they are there!

He has to use his remarkable imagination to see the world beyond the camp.

One night a rather scruffy and feisty girl called Jimmie arrives complete with a notebook written by her late Mother and a sparrow made out of bone around her neck.

As she is chronically dyslexic she has to rely on Subhi to read the contents of the notebook to her as they slowly unravel her past.

Gradually the pair start to realise the significance of their own stories to their futures.

The play is superbly performed by eight talented actors with several playing multiple parts. The developing relationship between Subhi and Jimmie is portrayed particularly sensitively.

The actors also do their own very slick set changes as we slowly become more aware of the layout of the camp.

There is some very atmospheric music and clever use of images on the back wall as we get to see into Subhi’s dream world.

Clever visual effects are also made especially in the use of characters with large heads depicting Jimmie’s ancestors as well as menacing soldiers.

The aim of Zana Fraillon’s original novel was to allow young people to examine human rights abuses within fiction and this stage interpretation certainly achieves this. It was good to see so many pupils and students within the auditorium and I’m sure the book forms part of their curriculum.

The production could possibly have been a little shorter and I noticed some young members of the audience were getting a little restless toward the end of the first Act.

It was, however, a powerful drama which introduced the important issues and themes of human rights abuse, the courage of refugees, freedom, bereavement and protest.

The play has even greater significance in the context of recent world events and illustrates the horror of being driven from your homeland but never totally made to feel that you belong anywhere else. Sadly, refugees are often seen as second class citizens and treated almost like criminals.

Yet so many have shown extraordinary fortitude and enterprise and have the potential to make a significant contribution to any nation prepared to welcome them.


Above: Elmi Rashid Elmi as Eli, Yaamin Chowdhury as Subhi and Siobhan Athwal as Queenie.

Picture by Robert Day