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Review: Manus at the AC Arts Main Theatre

By Carly Fisher

Verbatim theatre is one of the hardest forms to master – it is a style of theatre that demands the strongest of storytelling but also great refine, and a style of theatre that can at once capture an audience when done well, or be completely lost when not. Verbatim theatre is not easy but gosh, does the Verbatim Theatre Group’s production Manus, prove why it is so important.

Manus tells the story of eight forgotten Iranian refugees who have been imprisoned on Manus and Nauru for more than five years on their quest to get to Australia. They are not criminals, of this they make sure that we know, they are migrants seeking a better life, most of them because of the conflicts and dangers surrounding the 2009 Iranian election. This is important because it aligns also with when the laws in Australia were changed to ensure that no refugees who travelled to Australia by raft would be permitted to enter Australia, instead being moved from Christmas Island to Manus or Nauru. The eight stories that we follow document the physiological and then physical torture inflicted through the camps and the dehumanization of those imprisoned. We are told of the forms of suicide that adults through to children will try, of teens sewing their lips together in protest. We watch video clips of children playing with paper boats in puddles, recounting their own journeys here.

This is in no way an easy piece of theatre to watch.

And then you remember the most haunting part, every word that we are hearing is real. This is the power of Verbatim.

The production elements within this piece are stunning. The only set/props used throughout are bright red oil canisters and with the exception of these boxes, everything is black. A large projection screen at the back of the stage allows for the English subtitles to be clear to all audiences as the 80 minute production is performed entirely in Persian. A highly stylized production, the show utilizes a full rain system and divided projected imagery. The actors wear grey clothing that allows for their bodies to be used as projection screens for many of the haunting clips that are shown to us.

I am sure that this is a hard piece of theatre for anyone to watch, but as an Australian, this production is like a large mirror reflecting a very ugly period of Australian history that we know still continues. We are used to hearing of stories of disillusionment as refugees strive to get to American or English shores – we have heard those stories. To be the perpetrators in this story is not easy, but again, it is true. This is a brave piece that would not have been easy to bring to Australian shores and the troupe of exceptional actors should be recognized for this courage.

I say exceptional actors because I have yet to see a subtitled play in the past where I felt I understood the language they were speaking, even though I do not, like I did through Manus. I speak no Persian and yet I understood. I could feel the pain, I could hear the wallows, even without the subtitles. Reading along made it that much harder to watch.

This is not an easy piece of theatre, it is not for a light evening’s entertainment, but it is also one you should not miss. Prepare yourself prior and support this great work before it finishes its Adelaide Festival Run.

Photo Credit: Sadeq Zarjouyan

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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