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Lose to Win - Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)

Written by Mandela Mathia. Directed by Jessica Arthur


What does it mean to truly be "Australian"? Is it merely based on birth, or is it dreamt up from a longing for safety, thankfulness and human kindness? Mandela Mathia's story may just hold the answer.


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Belvoir St Theatre, Surrey Hills

Until 19th May


Mandela Mathia sets to teach us what it truly means to be “Australian” and offers a friendly piece of perspective when perceiving the gift of the land we have around us. In a performance that breathes hope, joy and survival Lose to Win is Mathia’s backstory of a child grown in a war zone who defied impossible odds to arrive on the shores of our lucky country. 


Directed by Jessica Arthur, Mathia is inherently loveable, with a smile that captures the entire stage and an honesty that is both raw and full of life. There is an undeniable optimism built into the heart of the piece. With the help of Yacou Mbaye’s Sudanese instrumentals, the piece is imbued with an authenticity that transforms the space. Mbaye welcomes audiences into the upstairs theatre with some light drumming and manipulation of the audience into a three-tier beat of claps and clicks to create a space of safety and enjoyment as we transport ourselves into Mathia’s world.


Lose to Win, Belvoir St Theatre. Images by Brett Boardman.


We follow Mathia as he takes us back through his childhood in Sudan, a country ravaged by civil war that took the life of his father, a man Mathias never had the chance to know. His mother, too, is taken as she simply seeks to feed her two sons, leaving Mathia on a journey that takes him up the continent of Africa to a new family and eventually, the shores of Australia. 


There are simple, yet effective elements at play throughout Mathia’s journey. Kate Baldwin’s set is bright and evocative of Africa, with moments of darkness and soft hues for instances of loss. Keerthi Subramanyam’s set is kept minimal to allow for Mathia to wander, closing and creating space between the audience.


Eventually, we are introduced to “the dream” for Mathia, one in which he represents his home of Australia as part of the Socceroos, winning goals for a country who he is lucky to call a new home to live. This part of the story is small in comparison to the rest of his tale, one of struggle, perseverance, gang crimes and shoe polishing. 


There’s a rawness to the production that is endearing...what we are left with is an ultimate feeling of warmth and reflection.

The punch to the gut comes as Mathia realises that his dream comes at a cost of racial profiling in Western Sydney. As Mathia recounts small instances of racism, he leads to truthful anger at larger flamboyant racism in the Government of his new home - Dutton’s call for deportation of Sudanese gangs leaves a particularly sour taste.


There’s a rawness to the production that is endearing. Some tonal shifts and elements do feel unpolished or stumbled over, but are kept together through Mathia’s movement through sharing his life on stage.


What we are left with is an ultimate feeling of warmth and reflection. We are left to reflect on the notion of what it means to ultimately be “Australian”, does this claim come from the simple fact of being born in a place, or is it earned through perseverance, hope and gratefulness for what we have and how we treat each other? Mathia’s story may just hold some of the answers.


 

CREATIVES

MANDELA MATHIA. WRITER/PERFORMER

JESSICA ARTHUR. DIRECTOR

YACOU MBAYE. MUSICIAN

KEERTHI SUBRAMANYAM. SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER

BRENDON BONEY. SOUND DESIGNER AND COMPOSER

KATE BALDWIN. LIGHTING DESIGNER

AYAH TAYEH. DRAMATURGICAL CONSULTANT

LAURA FARRELL. VOCAL COACH

JEN JACKSON. STAGE MANAGER


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