BWW REVIEW: Filled With Humor And Heart, KASAMA KITA Shares A Different Australian Migrant Story
Saturday 23rd November 2019, 7:45pm, Downstairs at Belvoir St Theatre
Jordan Shea's new Australian play KASAMA KITA shares an incredible and little-known history of the migrant nurses that came to work in Australian hospitals in the 1970's. Rounding out Belvoir Theatre's 25A program for 2019, this beautiful work adds to the much-needed inclusion and visibility of diverse stories on Australian stages.
KASAMA KITA, which means "I'm with you" in Tagalog, may be a fictional story of young Filipino nursing students coming to train and work at Balmain Hospital but it is based in truth as the start of their journey is similar to the many Filipino migrants that came out to work in Australian hospitals and send money back to home when the Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Unable to find work and many of the necessities of life and under constant threat of government sanctioned brutality and even death, Nancy (Monica Sayers), her younger brother Antero (Kenneth Moraleda) and their friend Cory (Teresa Tate Britten), who was quite possibly younger than both of them, take up positions under the strict and racist Matron's (Jude Gibson) control. While Nancy is the 'good girl' wanting to do well in her classes, get a good reference for when she returns to the Philippines, stays in the dorms all night and sends all her money home, the same can't be said for Antero and Cory who see the opportunity for freedom and exploration, safe from capital punishment or forced marriage.
Under Erin Taylor's direction, this beautiful piece is presented with simplicity in the intimate space of the Downstairs theatre at Belvoir St. Emma White's (production designer) set consists of red brick steps and a mobile black box with a backdrop of an unobtrusive two-toned wall. The costuming helps set the time period of the work, from fabulously retro crochet dresses, polyester patterned shirts and nurses' uniforms with stiff board hats, to contemporary fashions of the 21st century. Kelsey Lee's lighting design helps shift the work through the various locations and times of day, from bright bold lights for the hospital and more muted tones for other spaces and spotlights for focused intimate expression or scenes that play out in the Oxford Street nightclubs that Cory and Antero find solace in.
Taylor has gathered a wonderful cast to span the two timeframes with Sayers, Moraleda and Tate Britten transforming from teenagers and young adults to older wise images of the same characters 45 years later. They are supported by Jude Gibson and Kip Chapman who take on the various roles of the Caucasian Australians the trio interact with. Sayers conveys Nancy's determination and focus while Moraleda presents a delightfully charismatic, goofy and camp younger brother who has found a world where he can be himself and Tate Britten captures Cory's desire to be free and enjoy life without rules or boundaries. Gibson presents a stereotypical nursing matron of the era and contrasts the performance with a much freer and accepting publican Kaz. Chapman also draws on stereotypes for his portrayal of gay nightclub lothario Daryl while strait-laced government advisor Thomas is given more depth and mystique as Antero gets him to drop his guard.
Presenting truth and honesty on stage while telling stories that are not often seen on Australian stages, KASAMA KITA is a beautifully written and presented piece of theatre that challenges the audience to consider that the Australian story is made up of much more than white settlement. A work inspired by his mother's own story as a migrant nurse, Shea's research and investigation through interviewing other migrant nurses from the Philippines comes through in the work which is presented with a wonderful balance of emotion and comedy. Hopefully a main stage producer will pick this work up as it deserves to be told to a much bigger audience but in the meantime, catch it in the intimate space of the Downstairs theatre.