‘The Fig Tree Replanted’: The live concert exploring a history of migrant displacement and isolation
10.02.2021

‘The Fig Tree Replanted’: The live concert exploring a history of migrant displacement and isolation

Klezmeritis
Words by Tom Parker

The Fig Tree Replanted is the captivating new production from The Boite.

After Victoria’s iconic multicultural music organisation The Boite valiantly waded through 2020 with their hugely-successful digital concert series, Adapt, Not Cancel, on Sunday February 21, they will be presenting their first live show of 2021.

The Fig Tree Replanted is a communal venture from The Boite, in collaboration with the Hellenic Museum and Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre, and sees them revive one of their most iconic artistic productions in their 40-year history.

Featuring a dozen world-renowned Australian performers from Jewish, Greek, Italian and other backgrounds, The Fig Tree Replanted will dive deep into one of Arnold Zable’s most important books.

For those not familiar, Zable is one of Australia’s most respected writers, storytellers and human rights activists, and in 2002, he published The Fig Tree – a collection of short stories recounting significant adventures of times gone by, shining a spotlight on his Jewish ancestors’ journeys from Eastern Europe to Australia, alongside his partner Dora’s family from the Greek island of Ithaca.

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As you might imagine, those journeys were filled with hardship, underlined by a desperation to survive and be accepted amongst new surroundings. While it’s been 19 years since those original stories were told, the narratives stand taller than ever, mirroring the perpetual displacement riddling modern-day society.

Zable understands that, and so The Fig Tree Replanted was born.

“In recent times, I began thinking that all the themes, the major themes that underpin the stories and the songs in both the book and the concert and the CD, they’re ever-recurring,” Zable says.

“The stories of journeys towards new light, of seeking refuge, the stories of the incredible songlines that have come to this country from many parts of the world. The journeys of people that bring their melodies and different ways of seeing things to Australia, all these underlying themes are ever-recurring and we’re living in a time where there are more displaced people than ever – I think over 75 million now.”

 

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Australia, specifically, continues to be punctured by issues relating to refugee treatment and acceptance – most particularly through its troublesome detention system.

“We’ve been confronted by issues in recent years, in terms of what’s been happening in regards to refugees here – on Manus Island and Nauru – all of these coalesced and got me thinking, ‘We can replant the Fig Tree’, and revisit those stories and songs in a new light, and retell the stories in this ever-evolving context of human movement and journeys and longing to find a new place.”

As part of the 2021 restaging of The Fig Tree, Zable has produced a renewed script, which will see him weave his signature storytelling style between songs. Many of the artists who made up the original music troupe will feature again in The Fig Tree Replanted.

The likes of ARIA Award-winners Kavisha Mazzella and Irine Vela, Klezmania’s Freydi Mrocki, David Krycer and Lionel Mrocki, and Klezmeritis’ Ernie Gruner and Phil Carroll, will be reprising their performances for the show, rearranging the early works in the process.

Three members of the initial Fig Tree concert have unfortunately passed, but the legacies of Costas Tsicaderis, Spiro Papoutsis and David Breytman will live on through a number of artists filling in their shoes, including Achilles Yiangoulli and Eugene Belenko.

While aspects of The Fig Tree Replanted will naturally mirror the original 2003 staging, alterations have been made to allow the new production to establish its own grounding, crafting a new foundation for the perception and influence of The Fig Tree.

“In a way, it’s [The Fig Tree Replanted] more deliberately scripted than The Fig Tree Mark 1,” Zable says. “What we’re aiming for is a magical flow between story and song. So I’ll be telling the stories that I’ve scripted, which we hope will flow seamlessly into the song, and then return to the story.

“The script itself has some of the stories that were originally performed, and there’s some new stories from more recent journeys. So we’re bringing the show to new audiences and at the same time, we’re bringing new stories to old audiences.”

The Fig Tree Replanted will be showcased live in the gardens of the Hellenic Museum on Sunday February 21, with one show at 2:30pm and another at 6:30pm. Find out more here.