Cafe Scheherazade on the Stage

Depiction of Queen Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar in *The Arabian Nights*, via WikiCommons

Depiction of Queen Scheherazade telling her stories to King Shahryar in The Arabian Nights, via WikiCommons

Arnold Zable’s popular story collection Cafe Scheherazade has been adapted for the stage. The play, written by Therese Radic and directed by Bagryana Popov, brings to life the stories of migration and displacement that Zable has made it his life’s work to document.

The book, and play, are set in a popular St Kilda cafe opened by Jewish Holocaust survivors in 1958. The cafe - famous for its chicken soup and Black Forest cake - closed in 2008. In his history of St Kilda buildings, A Place of Sensuous Resort, Richard Paterson wrote of the cafe, “on Sunday mornings, it was the gathering place of single men living in St Kilda boarding houses or one-bedroom flats, who had lost entire families in the Holocaust and who came to Melbourne as refugees.”

Its owners named the cafe after a Parisian nightclub that features in the novel Arch of Triumph by the popular German inter-war novelist Erich Maria Remarque. The owners of the cafe, Avram and Masha Zeleznikov, became separated at the end of the Second World War and the tumultuous events that engulfed Poland thereafter. They agreed to meet at the Parisian nightclub they knew from the novel. They were eventually reunited there in 1949. Scheherazade herself, of course, was a popular figure in Persian and Arabic folk tales, who told such beguiling stories that she was able to forestall her death at the hands of a sadistic king, whom she eventually tamed with the power of her storytelling. Scheherazade continues to be a ubiquitous presence in popular culture.

Cafe Scheherazade runs at fortyfivedownstairs until 3 April.

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