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Review: You Know We Belong Together at the Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House

Review by Nola Bartolo

Did you know that one in five people have a disability? I did not know this. Julia Hales shared this statistic with us in her important play that opened to an engaged and vocal audience last night. An audience that gave the play a standing ovation. The point she so poignantly made is that art in all mediums does not reflect this statistic. We do not see one in five characters in art, dance, screen or on the stage having disabilities including Down syndrome. Julia points out that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and yet he doesn’t have a disability. I must agree with Julia. Give the role to an actor with disabilities. Because there are actors, dancers and artists who are very capable and happen to also have a disability.

I believe that the theatre is all about community and it’s wonderful to see that this community is now making theatre about not being a part of for so long. Let’s face it - there has not been a lot of diversity on the stage in Australia. Thankfully this is starting to change. But we need more.

“I want people to see us for who we are and what we do as part of the world. I watched every single episode of Australian soap opera Home and Away since it first aired in 1988, but I’ve never seen another person with Down syndrome in the cast. I used to dream of landing a role in it and finding love. So I created You Know We Belong Together. This is a story for us, by us.” says creator, co-writer and lead artist, Julia Hales.

The moving performance of monologues, video, scenes, dance and song stars Hales and a cast of six Western Australian actors who put their own lives on stage, showcasing their deeply personal experiences and day-to-day reality of Down syndrome. Together, they create a beautiful and heartfelt portrait of friendship on a replica set of Home and Away’s famous diner at Summer Bay – so Hales can finally be in the show.

Hales co-wrote the play with award winning playwright Finn O’Branagáin, and Clare Watson who also directed the show. They did such a great job of using various mediums throughout the performance. The use of film, projection, dance and even karaoke was powerful. The message of love is a constant thread throughout the play. Hales’ dream of one day being on Home and Away was so beautifully brought to life with the recreation of the infamous Summer Bay café.

I cried, I laughed, and I was engaged from the moment the house lights went down. The performance had an integrated Auslan interpretation and captioning was provided during film segments. Bloody Brilliant.

The highly acclaimed play is a type of very personal documentary style journey about Hales’ life, loves and dreams. They are not too dissimilar to most of us. It is wonderful. It’s funny and honest, it’s heart-warming and heart breaking and most definitely long overdue. The message is gorgeous. It is thought provoking and I sincerely hope that it will continue to insist on the necessary changes around diversity and inclusion in the arts. Hales asks the tough questions. You know we belong together is a special play that will undoubtedly have you singing your way out of the theatre. Go and see it. It runs till the 10th of September.

Image Supplied


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