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Review: Lose to Win at Belvoir St

Review by Charlotte Leamon


Mandela Mathia takes the stage at Belvoir St to share his powerful and tragic story. Mathia is a South Sudanese man who fled his war-torn country and experienced many hardships that are near impossible to fathom. Despite these events, he found a new outlook and joy of life through these challenging journeys he took. Mathia’s story demonstrates how there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and hope should not be lost even in the darkest of times.  


The one-man show was supported by percussionist Yacou Mbaye who began the show with a call and response drumming session with the audience. The audience brought joy to the task, laughing and clapping along. The set was earthy, covered in warm tones of orange and yellow. As Mbaye sat amongst his percussion and drummed, Mathia walked behind the backdrop of a roped net and the backlighting created a silhouette as we saw him sing. This interruption of song, drumming and dance continued between monologues as Mathia seamlessly transitioned between stories. The variation of hip-hop, rap and traditional South Sudanese songs showed off Mathia’s talents in singing and dance. 


Directed by Jessica Arthur, Mathia told his story in a conversational and personal tone. His passion and energy were met with slower points in the story has he told the audience about losing his first, and second mother. A beautiful gesture directed by Arthur and incorporating lighting by Kate Baldwin saw Mathia pay tribute to his mothers. As the light beamed from back stage left, Mathia walked towards the light and sang a traditional South Sudanese song. A story so personal would have no doubt been difficult to share, but Mathia’s strength and perseverance showed as he had to relive these memories. 


The use of props was effective as a suitcase was painted with the locations in which Mathia had to travel in order to find safety and eventually make his way to Australia. These suitcases were often stacked to be used as a seat for Mathia, and the map was often referred to in order to show the audience the length of travel. A brown, white and black polish were used to describe the splitting of Ghana and South Sudan from the British and the front lighting allowed the silhouette of this demonstration to be lit onto the back of the stage, adding another dimension of intimacy between the audience and Mathia. 


After working since the age of 9 to support his mother, suffering loss and tormented abuse by gangs in Egypt, Mathia and his family were finally permitted to come to Australia. Mathia’s joy for moving to Australia was heartwarming, as we believed his torments were over and a new life for him would begin. As he began his life here in Australia, it was evident that this was not the case.


Mathia took this opportunity to explain the discrepancies the South Sudanese communities faced. Describing that if any of them took a step out of line, the whole community would suffer. The Dutton government turning against the South Sudanese community heart the hurts of the audience, as Mathia described that the peace and freedom he wanted still didn’t occur. 


A wonderful show full of love, sadness, and everything in between. Mathia and the production team put on a beautiful story which received a standing ovation. 

Image Supplied


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