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Following its sold out triumphant premiere season,
Café Scheherazade returned to fortyfivedownstairs by popular demand in August 2011.

Café Scheherazade is a new Australian play by Thérèse Radic, based on the best-selling 2001 novel by Arnold Zable, directed by Bagryana Popov with musical director Elissa Goodrich and designers Adrienne Chisholm (stage and costume) and Richard Vabre (lighting).

Mary Lou Jelbart, fortyfivedownstairs founder and artistic director, said the response to the play was overwhelming, “We exist to support new and adventurous Australian work and are thrilled that both the premiere and return seasons of Café Scheherazade were met with such critical acclaim and huge audience demand – over 6,000 patrons came to the two seasons and so many more were turned away.” Jelbart explained.

Critics praised the “deft direction” of Bagryana Popov; the “pivotal” music from the live klezmer band; the “superb” lighting; and the “heartfelt” performances of the ensemble cast as “uncannily authentic.”


Café Scheherazade shares the stories of Eastern European migrants in Melbourne – whose journeys and experiences of displacement and survival are universally resonant of refugee lives. The original Café Scheherazade in St Kilda was an Acland Street icon – the memories of its founders and regulars are extraordinary and their life experiences have contributed significantly to Melbourne’s cosmopolitan landscape. Set in this former iconic café, Café Scheherazade shares the stories of the proprietors, Avram and Masha Zeleznikow, and their Eastern European patrons, who recount their journeys and experiences as refugees with feisty argument and endearing humour.  The play reminds us to celebrate and embrace those refugees who continue to arrive in Australia contributing to the rich diversity of this culture out of their experience of distress and displacement.

Directed by Bagryana Popov, both seasons of Café Scheherazade featured Jacob Allan, Richard Bligh, Jim Daly, Marta Kaczmarek, Bruce Kerr and George Werther. The play also featured klezmer musicians Ernie Gruner and Justin Marshall under the musical direction of Elissa Goodrich.

Adrienne Chisholm (designer), Richard Vabre (lighting designer) and Alison Huth (stage manager) transformed fortyfivedownstairs’ intimate theatre ambience to recall the charm and warmth of the original, iconic Acland Street café.

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
Season One Dates: Tuesday 8 March to Sunday 3 April 2011
Season Two Dates:
Saturday 20 August to Sunday 11 September 2011

Cafe Scheherazade in the media


“This is a joy.”
Curtain Call: Crikey
11 March 2011

“…a compelling ninety minutes of theatre.”
Stage Whispers
12 March 2011

“Engaging, affecting, and thought-provoking.”
Theatre Press
21 August 2011

“…an experience not to be missed.”
Theatre People
8 March 2011

“Scheherazade fills the stage.”
Jewish News
22 March 2011

“…the stories told remind us why they must never be forgotten.”
Aussie Theatre
12 March 2011


Further media

From Street Cafe to the stage
Stateline ABC
11 March 2011

Cafe Scheherazade takes centre stage
The Jewish News
By Danny Gocs
Tuesday 1 March 2011

Short black, long chat
The Age, Entertainment
By John Bailey
Monday 28 February 2011

Box Office

The Age: (melbourne) magazine
By Peter Barrett
Friday 25 February 2011




Café Scheherazade was produced and presented by fortyfivedownstairs and its premiere season was supported by the Sunraysia Foundation, Arts Victoria, City of Melbourne, the Besen Foundation, the Kronhill PletkaFoundation and the Pratt Foundation and private donors.

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