By James Ong
In Between Two is an autobiographical piece devised by Asian Australian musical artists Joel Ma (aka Joelistics) and James Mangohig. Here we see two men with asian fathers and white mothers, who were raised in Australia and express themselves through hip hop. Cards on the table, I am also a man, with an Asian father, a white mother, raised in Australia and am a hip hop enthusiast. It’s not hard to see this was quite a personal experience for me. Directed by Suzanne Chaundy, I was enthralled by the skilled hands at work in bringing such tender stories to the Lennox Theatre at Riverside Parramatta.
The 70-minute experience flowed seamlessly, with expertly crafted visual and audio cues transforming the two men’s stories into poetically curated family sagas. A gentle collage of photos backlit Ma and Mangohig’s genuinely heartfelt performances and brought forth a depiction of my own childhood and family history that I wasn’t quite prepared to see on stage. Chapters are bookended by an array of musical interludes, ranging from politically-charged Australian hip hop to a distorted grunge rendition of Amazing Grace. Here, the art design truly shines, providing a vibrant platform for these powerful stories to be told, particularly through Lucy Birkinshaw’s Lighting and Jean Poole’s Visual Design, which both helped elevate the emotion to great effect. These interludes bridge the two generations of Asian Australians and help illustrate the raw emotions of men who are both racially and culturally half-caste.
A small exchange between the two catalogues the myriad of nicknames for half asians - ‘banana’ and ‘slight incline’ are personal favourites. This stood out to me as it resurface my own high school memories of self-deprecation and the need to get the jokes in before others would in a not so light hearted manner. It’s this wry acknowledgement of hardships underpinned with humour that epitomises the tone of the show for me. Honest portrayals of life, looked back on with a calm and hopeful sense of perspective.
I fear that In Between Two will not find the praise it deserves in the Sydney theatre scene. In a culture that finds itself celebrating the same faces, the same stories and the same narrow perspective of Australians, a show such as this may be seen as simply a #culturalexperience.
This is more than a half asian hip hop show and these stories are about more than two families.
In Between Two is a slick and captivating experience that brings the stories of two families together to paint a truly unique image of the Asian Australian experience over several decades. An important production handled with creativity, care and restraint, this show provides a rich profile of an entire sub-sub-sub-culture. One that is is particularly close to home for me and I hope will ring true for other as well.
Photo Credit: Sarah Walker
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.