REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★
Kasama Kita are Tagalog words that translate in English to ‘I’m with you’. This is the title of a new piece by Filipino-Australian playwright and teacher Jordan Shea, inspired by his mother and based on interviews he conducted with a number of women. The play was originally developed as part of the Q-Lab Artist in Residence program and further at Q Theatre. For a limited run, it’s now on stage at Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre, closing the 2019 25A season and presented by Aya Productions.
Kasama Kita begins in Sydney in 1974. The climate created after President Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law in The Philippines causes three young people to leave their country and travel to Australia. There is Nancy (Monica Sayers) and her brother, Antero (Kenneth Moraleda), as well as their friend, Cory (Teresa Tate Britten). They will train as nurses in Balmain and send money home to their parents. When Nancy, Antero and Cory arrive, there’s a mix of trepidation and excitement at the prospect of a cultural switch.
Nancy is studious and abides by the rules, impressing the matron (Jude Gibson) with her steadfast commitment to her training. But Antero and Cory become enamoured by other aspects of Australian life that take their focus away from their nursing studies. Cory enjoys the nightlife and begins an interest in drugs. Antero, too, is taken by what Sydney offers after hours, relishing the opportunity to hang out at Flo’s Palace in Darlinghurst as an openly gay man, with the possibility of the lock up versus much direr consequences at home.
Act Two takes us forward 45 years to the present day. Nancy, Antero and Cory have all remained in Australia but have followed divergent paths. Unsurprisingly, Nancy’s hard work and ambition have taken her to high places. Antero has had a more ordinary life, while Cory has had run-ins with the law. Now, one of the three has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, a turn of events that will bring about the reconnection of the estranged trio.
Kasama Kita is a beguiling, refreshing and enlightening piece that tells a story of Australian immigrants of which few of us are aware. We’re given the chance to see Australia from their perspective; we laugh at aspects of our peculiar vernacular and culture as they become acquainted, and we feel shame at the pervasive racism they encounter. We’re provoked to think about the point at which someone is considered by the local community as one of its members, instead of an outsider.
Shea’s text is beautifully written and includes a mix of dramatic, tender moments and lighter fare. Director Erin Taylor’s skilful treatment of the text has resulted in a production that moves along at a tight pace and keeps its audience engaged until its final seconds.
The cast of five is incredibly strong. Sayers is superb as Nancy, an earnest, scholarly young woman who climbs the ranks and then needs to be reminded of those she has left behind. Moraleda’s Antero is funny and appealing, and his development from younger to older man is believable. His re-telling of a story in Act One about the death of a secret partner back in The Philippines is full of pathos.
Tate Britten is outstanding as Cory. Her character is high-spirited, game and insubordinate, eventually venturing down a darker road than her friends, all the while retaining an appreciation for her life. It’s such an authentic performance and helps us to invest ourselves completely in Cory’s story.
Gibson’s matron gives us glimpses of prevailing Australian attitudes towards immigrants in the 1970s, and her bartender Kaz is a welcome contrast. Rounding out the cast, Kip Chapman lends presence and sizeable skills to a number of supporting characters.
Production Designer Emma White keeps sets and props spare, and this assists in ensuring the uncluttered movement of the action from one location to the next. Her costuming choices are excellent, showing deference to time and place and appropriately reflecting character. Clare Hennessy’s sound choices are similarly thoughtful and nicely complement onstage events (this reviewer especially enjoyed the background use of Sister Janet Mead’s 1973 version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in an early scene!) Kelsey Lee’s lighting, meanwhile, consistently reflects tone and mood throughout.
It’s a great time for Australian theatre, as an increasing number of untold stories about a wider variety of Australians are finding their way onto our stages. As well as showcasing Shea’s prowess for storytelling, Kasama Kita is a wonderful homage to Filipino Australians, who have vitally contributed to our diversity and deserve to be recognised for those contributions.
Photo credit: Aya Productions
KASAMA KITA – SEASON DETAILS
VENUE: Belvoir (Downstairs Theatre) – 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
DATES: 20 November – 7 December 2019
TICKETS: $25 at belvoir.com.au/25a/kasama-kita/