Manus at Adelaide Festival

“If you choose not to go home then you will spend a very, very long time here.” Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, in a video message to the detainees on Manus in 2014, four months after the riot that saw the brutal murder of Reza Barati.

Politicians may yawn. And maybe the media have started to run quiet on the shameful situation for those who sought asylum on our shores. And maybe the decade-long deluge of miserable reports have blunted our own moral energy to confront the prolonged suffering and trauma in our Pacific gulags.

But this will jolt you like a high voltage shock.

Hamish spoke with Director ​​​​​​​​Nazanin Sahamizadeh about this work in which interviews by asylum seekers still in limbo on Manus and Nauru are relayed verbatim by a cast of eight. For more on this explosive work by an all-Iranian company,  read the full interview below: 

Nazanin Sahamizadeh

Firstly, could you please explain what this play is?

Manus play is about stories of 8 Iranian refugees that they have been detained in two illegal detention centers Manus and Nauro. They describe when they were in Iran and reasons for fleeing Iran, their journey and when they arrived in Manus & Nauro, their life condition.


Bringing the messages of journalist Behrouz Boochani and all those he interviewed to Australian audiences must be extremely challenging. Could you please tell us about difficulties both you and he have faced in doing so?


Finding Behrouz was challenging but creating the trust of all those who have been interviewed was more challenging, for them to trust me and this performance enough to tell the story of their lives and trying to stay faithful to these stories has been the most challenging part. Because of the different culture and life condition between Iranian people and Australians it has been challenging with some of the interviews to try and define things and give explanations so Australian people have a better understanding.


This play is verbatim and performed by an all-Iranian cast in Persian (with surtitles)!. The show will certainly be shocking and powerful. Are you at all concerned that you are scaring away the Australians who most need to experience this play?


Australian people have shown in different occasions that they do not agree with off-shore detention policies and showing them the reality of what has been going on on these islands wont scare them away, rather it will make them understand more clearly what has happened to those who wanted to reach their country hoping to make a better life.

This will be shocking of course but at the same time, eye opening to the reality of the life of asylum seekers who wish to find a new home in Australia.

So I am not concerned that Australian audiences will scare easily, because they can be the ones to understand the situation best.


Can you see Australians changing their views regarding Manus Island and offshore detention in the future? How do you think this can/will happen?


Australian people, at least most of them, don’t agree with offshore detention. The Australian government have either understood this and are stuck in a wrong policy or will soon become aware. It's enough to look at the consequences of this policy on humans through different ways, such as seeing this play Manus or reading Behrouz's book or through anything that can be said about those who have experienced this situation for 6 years.


What lines/interviews in the play resonate most with you? Why?


There were shocking moments among all the interviews but when Reza Barati's friends defined the moment that he was murdered and when Omid 's close friends defined the self immolation of him while crying ,it really resonated with me.




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Its difficult to answer. One of my Iranian favorites is the movie named: Turtles Can Fly.


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I prefer Europe.

Dream show to direct?

Verbatim documentary theatre mix with dance about #me too perfomed with real actors that are interviewed.

Plays or musicals?

Musical film is La La Land. Play is Woyzeck.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

Watching movies and travel.

What’s next for you after this show?

Next work is Childhood_less . Another Verbatim documentary theatre about child workers on the street in Iran .

The Australian premiere of Manus opens at the Adelaide Festival on March 7 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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