Play charts migrant journey with aplomb

Aishverya Nidhi (with little girls) and actors of the Abhinay school who performed for Leviathan

By Neena Badhwar

Leviathan ”“ a novel by John Birmingham depicts migrants as the mythical monster coming from the seas, which is how local Australians react when any new wave of migrants come. It charts the history of Sydney’s migration over 200 years of its settlement. During the gold rush it was the Chinese who bore the brunt of despise, then came the white Australia policy and its language tests ”“ an excuse to send people back, the eastern Europeans followed during the Second World War, the Vietnamese in the 70s and lately the Indian students have been at the receiving end of the wrath of the locals.

Stefo Nantsou’ interpretation brought a stage adaptation of the novel that was supported by the State Theatre Company, its directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton. More than 250 actors, musicians, dancers and members of the community took part in the drama staged in Hurstville in September.

Stefo Nantsou anchored the play well and what an excellent and varied performance this talented actor gave in almost every scene, even dancing to the ”˜Mehndi laga ke rakhna’ song   in the Indian student episode.

Leviathan, at places hilarious, yet serious in some episodes, one could not but sense the irony in the dialogues. It has not been easy for the migrant community, but all survived and became formidable in the process as the play suggested ”“ the building of the Harbour Bridge ”“ a symbolic representation of meeting the divide between cultures. Leviathan recreated scenes from early penal settlement to Vietnamese problems   while the recent problems of Cronulla riots and a spate of attacks on Indian students were some of the extra bits that were added to the play by Nantsou as the book was published in 1999.

A child of the migrants himself, Stefo, whose parents are Macedonians, says, “I just wanted the experiences migrants have had to speak for themselves. It had to be the people from ethnic communities where not only similar stories abound; they actually have experienced the journey of settling here and have faced the opposition put to them.”

Leviathan not only accomplished to put across the churlish disposition of the locals towards the migrants, it also brought forth the song and dance and the culture of the migrants in a more meaningful way. It not only portrayed the violence but it showed the tenacity of the people under such treatment as they came here for whatever reason, be it economic, refuge or being sent as convicts.

Dancers dance to ”˜Mehndi laga ke rakhna’

Aishverya Nidhis’ Abhinay School of Performing Arts   provided the Indian angle and Bollywood song and dance segment that entertained. As poor Indians students had no one but themselves to herd together to be heard, it showed how miles apart we all are in our thinking, though still quite similar humanly in our emotions.

The audience represented the Leviathan actors and felt many play segments close to their heart, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Eastern Europeans, the detainees. One could sense the empathy of having gone through a similar experience by one and by all.  Stefo has been able to touch the raw nerve, a crass reality of migration though entertaining in between with song and dance.

Has he been able to create a voice, a genre of the ethnic migrants, is only to be seen in the future. If the Sydney Theatre Company and Cate Blanchett have realized this gap which exists between the main stream theatre and the untapped migrant talent that Stefo with Leviathan tried to bring out, surely there’s more in store.

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