Friday, March 8, 2019


Behrouz Boochani on Manus. Photo: Mohammad Sadeq Zarjouyan


Verbatim playwrights Lila Hekmatnia and Keivan Sarreshteh. Researcher and director. Nazanin Sahamizade Assistant director. Elham Khodaverdi. Tour manager NH Theatre Agency.. Cast Ebrahim Azizi, Ehsan Bayatfar, Ali Pouya Ghasemi, Hana Kamkar, Hamid Reza Mohammadi, Nasrin Nakisa,Nazanin Sahamizadeh, Misagh Zare. Performance Manager and surtitles. Siavash Maghsoudi, Media Artist. Frederick Rodrigues. Set designer Amir Hossein Davani. Lighting designer. Ali Kouzwghar. AC Arts- Main Theatre. Adelaide Festival 2019. March 7 – 10.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Theatre can make you laugh. It can make you cry and it can arouse  an overwhelming sense of anger an injustice. Manus, performed by the Verbatim Theatre Company from Iran under the direction of Nazanin Sahamizade will evoke no laughter. It will make you cry at man’s  appalling inhumanity to man. I say man, because the forces that compel people to flee their land in search of peace and freedom and those who dictate the policies by which a refugee may enter a country are by and large men. It is also true that the majority of those incarcerated on Manus and Nauru are primarily men in the company of a lesser number of women and children, men, who for the most part are in search of a better life for their women and their children. It is no accident in Verbatim Theatre Group's drama that the accounts of the refugees detained on Manus and Nauru by the Australian government are related through the Kurdish journalist, Behrouz Boochani  now in his sixth year of detention.
Photo by Mohammad Sadeq Zarjouyan
The horrifying experiences of Boochani and seven other refugees, are played out by the all Iranian company on a stage in Persian with English surtitles. Unfortunately, the surtitles were set too high for me to be easily able to focus on the actors on the stage. However, it did little to lessen the impact of this powerful and intensely moving work. Eighteen red Gerry cans serve as props to represent parts of the boats flung into the treacherous and wild open seas, while rain falls from above to flood the stage  They are eight of those millions who flee their land every three seconds in search of safe haven. Australia was that safe haven, that land of opportunity where refugees could live in peace, raise their families and work to create a new life in peace and safety. Instead, under Australian law, they have become stranded, prisoners of a country that brands them illegal, because they risked their lives and paid their money to people smugglers to board unsafe boats to flee persecution. In a desperate quest for safety
The power of Verbatim Theatre is that it cries out with the explosive voice of visceral truth. It is greater than agit-prop because it appears with the mark of authenticity in its heart. It is the voice-piece of the human condition. On the stage below and in the words above we see the waves engulf the dilapidated boats. We hear the plight of the woman, separated for years from her children. We are told of the women raped and the men beaten. We are told of the children, traumatized and impelled to sew their lips together. We learn of the inmate who set himself alight, and the brutal murder of Reza Barati, left to die in his own blood, gushing from a slit throat. The anger swells with each unfolding tale, while politicians staunchly proclaim why these refugees will spend a very long time on Manus and Nauru if they do not choose to go home.

In protest, Boochani climbs a tree in the centre of the compound.  He threatens to jump unless they provide him with classical music. His is a peaceful demonstration to bring to the attention of the world the injustice of the plight of refugees. While political parties proclaim the reasons why these refugees must not be allowed to arrive on Australian soil, Verbatim Theatre simply and powerfully  exposes not the number MEG 45 thrust upon Bherouz Boochani on arrival, but each person’s true identity.

Oppressor and oppressed struggle through the political quagmire, each seeking supremacy, each in mortal combat. Manus is a plea for compassion, for the integrity of human dignity and for laws that recognize not how one fled persecution but why. As Nazanin Sahamizadeh writes at the end of her introduction, “Art probably can bring those held far from the centre of attention back into the spotlight. Let us at least hope so” And let us hope that the Verbatim Theatre Group can be a force for reason and for change!

Harrowing and heart-wrenching, Manus provokes debate. Let us hope it has the power to provoke just and compassionate action.