Arts and Culture

Review: Manus

Posted on: Sun 10 Mar 2019

by Lisa Harper Campbell

Manus, directed by Nazanin Sahamizadeh and presented by Verbatim Theatre Group from Iran, tells the story of 8 refugees currently detained on Manus and Nauru. Five men and three women detail their arduous journeys at sea, their longing to see their family, their mistreatment, their fears, their hopes for the future and, most importantly, their anger.

All based on real events, the story of Manus is told through direct address to the audience. A character based on journalist Behrooz Boochani bookends the show with moving introductory and closing monologues; he, and the audience with him, are bearing witness to the refugee crisis.

The staging is minimal, with actors carrying red fuel canisters, constructing set pieces as they go. Water is used to great effect early then is left as puddles on stage and maddening drips throughout the rest of the show. Accompanying music was emotive but ultimately oppressive. The lighting however was excellent, especially with the show’s opening spotlight sequence.

The power of these thematic and technical elements however was undercut by the translation of the Persian spoken (I’m sure beautifully) by the actors to the surtitles. It was clunky, there were significant grammatical issues, incomplete sentences, typos…not just pedants would find it irritating, bemusing and ultimately distracting from the important message being conveyed on stage.

Projecting newsreel and documentary footage onto screens, the actors’ clothes and piles of fuel canisters (the only props on stage) was clever but only intermittently successful. Sometimes the images were unclear and therefore their message was lost. However, it was impossible not to be moved by certain sequences, particularly around tales of violence and riots.

Despite these technical issues, with passionate performances and engaging stage craft Manus is challenging work tackling a subject matter with which every Australian, and indeed every global citizen, should engage.

Manus continues its Adelaide Festival season until March 10.

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