Every family has a story to tell, although some are better than others at telling it. Raised in Melbourne and born in pre-revolution Iran to a Persian father and Mauritian mother, performer Neda Rehmani’s family history is rich with adventure, warmth, love, loss, and forgiveness. It’s the kind of tale best shared over a home-cooked meal and a bottle of wine while poring over immaculately preserved family photo albums. That’s exactly how the creators of Cherry, Cherry – a part-dining, part-performance experience by inventive live-art collective A is for Atlas – invite you to hear it. Subverting the traditional ‘dinner and a show’ combination, Cherry, Cherry sees Rehmani, a percussionist, singer and dancer who has been performing professionally for 13 years, welcome guests into her mother’s Northcote home for a dinner party with a twist.
The show is one of two existing offerings in A is for Atlas’s Dining Room Tales series, a project cooked up by the company’s artistic director Xan Coleman, in which performers open up their homes (or those of friends and family members), to personally prepare communal meals for curious audiences. Coleman describes the experience as, “An intimate return to the source of performance and storytelling and an out-of-the-ordinary way to truly connect with an artist.”
Approaching the door to Neda’s house feels just like turning up to a party where you don’t know anyone; a mysterious, question mark of an evening that one can only hope doesn’t end in banal small talk over a lacklustre cheese platter. However, as the door swings open to reveal Coleman, who gives a sincere welcome, relieves you of your coat and bag and ushers you into the kitchen where the components of dinner simmer away on the stovetop, any initial feelings of trepidation dissipate. Where a mood of immediate warmth and ease is created by the intimacy of the homey surrounds, the calming presence of Neda’s husband Marrs and the free-flowing conversation that precedes and punctuates the meal, Cherry, Cherry is no slap-dash soiree. While each show differs slightly, the performance is a well-oiled machine, having toured Canberra and Sydney since it was originally staged in the couple’s Thornbury home in late 2011.
From Neda’s spirited song and dance, complete with multiple outfit changes and enough infectious energy to have the most timid and unmusical of attendees joining in to shake a tambourine with carefree abandon, to the cultural commentary that accompanies the serving of the Mauritian and Iranian-infused dishes, attention to detail ensures the professionalism of the performance remains uncompromised. In fact, the hosts are so adept that you won’t even notice them generously refilling your wine glass as you tuck into a spread of saffron-infused rice, delicately-flavoured curry and fresh salad. All the while, you’re listening intently, immersed in a journey of migration, resettlement and belonging. Post-show, the couple offer coffee, tea, biscuits and a chance for unscripted conversation should their new friends wish to ask questions or offer their own stories, as brought to mind by the show.
More integral to the performance than sharing one family’s fascinating and deeply moving history, or even celebrating Australia’s rich cultural diversity, is the act of bringing otherwise strangers together to enjoy one of the most basic, but enduringly life affirming traditions of all – a communal meal. Whether you bring a family member, friend or no one at all, you’ll leave with the kind of physical and emotional satiation that can only be gained through genuine human connection.
Two more shows remain in this season of Cherry, Cherry, on Friday March 28 and Saturday March 29.