Kasama Kita review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Kasama Kita Belvoir 25a supplied 2019
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The story of three Filipino nurses moving to Australia in the 1970s is told in this wonderful new play

What does it mean to make a home in a foreign land? How do you fashion a life from nothing? And how much are we really willing to allow the people around us to change?  

Underground in Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre, the year is 1974. Kasama Kita begins with three wide-eyed Filipino nurses-to-be making their grand entrance to that crab-shaped island at the bottom of the earth: Australia. The trio arrive in a flurry of suitcases, scrambling madly for a bus fare, brushing off the flippant racism weighed at them immediately upon their arrival, in their fervent, blind hope for what their new lives will be in this strange land. Kasama Kita traces the three – wild and restless Cory (Teresa Tate Britten), snarky Antero (Kenneth Moraleda) with a big heart, and the ruthlessly determined Nancy (Monica Sayers) – as they push up against who they are and who they could be in their new found freedom. The second half of the play meets them decades on, as they are brought together in dark circumstances and Nancy reckons with the consequences of an act of grace from her youth.

Filipino-Australian playwright Jordan Shea peppers the dialogue with a wonderful cultural specificity and a heightened sense of place. He reverses the usual racial compositions on stage: actors of colour drive the action, while white actors Jude Gibson and Kip Chapman occupy a variety of side roles ranging from hospital matron to political chief of staff to sleazy hook-up in a gay bar. Particularly, Gibson’s glee in her portrayal of ocker bartender Kaz with a painful tit piercing showcases remarkable range. While these characters are mouthpieces for the racism the characters experience, running alongside the bigotry is Cory, Nancy and Antero’s clear, deep affection for Australia as the country which received them, which took them in.

The historical context of the Philippines at the time of the trio’s departure is referenced only obliquely. In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and irredeemably changed the nation’s destiny. Young people left in droves to find work. The story of Filipino nurses moving to Australia as first-generation immigrants is an under-told part of the fabric of this country’s history.

Kasama Kita itself seems split into two parts, in both content and sensibility. The first half, set in the ‘70s, is played with a touch of whimsy, from the pastel blue eyeshadow on Nancy’s eyes to the theatricality of the actors’ expressions. Director Erin Taylor manages to conjure up a wild, careening energy in the scenes which need it, even when there are only two characters on stage. Cory, played by Teresa Tate Britten, is enamoured with Sydney’s party culture, while Monica Sayers’s Nancy, the dutiful stickler of the group, chides the others for not sending enough money back home. Kenneth Moraleda plays joyful Antero with nuance, tracking his progression from a queer stereotype, raving and dancing all night, to a settled, insightful character whose integrity keeps his family, blood-related or not, together.

It’s funny to think of Sydney as a wild party town these days, but as Cory races past on rollerblades, giddily drunk and high off the fumes of the city, you’re transported to Oxford Street in its former glory: glittery, grimy and full of dark corners for debauchery. Sharp timing and stellar sound production transform the intimate Downstairs Theatre into a sweaty nightclub – you can almost feel the bodies grazing, the heat of the flashing lights, the sour smell of spilled vodka. Even at the height of a rave, this play speaks truths about foreignness and the bonds that form as a result of being a stranger in a strange place. 

Without revealing the plot points that guide the second half of play, the machinations that work to bring the characters back into each other’s lives after decades don’t feel forced. The second half feels more balanced that the first, fleshing out the flippancy and one-liners with emotional depth and clarity around the motivations of each of Nancy, Antero and Cory. They have all changed, in ways that are subtle and powerful: any trace of Nancy’s Filipino accent has been masked by a flat Australian enunciation in order to adjust to the dominant culture of her new position in the world. 

Just like at the beginning of the play, there is a reckless optimism to the final scene. Kasama Kita is the story of the sunlit Australian dream deflating from the dreamers’ points of view, pin-prick by pin-prick – but told with charm and gusto, carried by an unlikely trio and a medley of winning side characters. As we see at the close of the play, there are blood ties and there are ties beyond. “Kasama kita” in Tagalog, after all, means “I’m with you”.

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