Sydney Festival: In Between Two

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James Mangohig and Joel Ma (aka Joelistics) have a few things in common — they’re both the first sons of mixed race marriages with Asian fathers and they’re both musicians with a taste for rebellion. But in their autobiographical show, produced by Performance 4A, they reveal that the lives which brought them together as close friends in the Australian hip hop scene are vastly different.

Mangohig’s Filipino father and Dutch-Australian mother began their relationship as pen pals many decades ago. After years of writing, the pair finally met up in the Philippines and then moved to Australia where they were wed. Eventually Mangohig’s father became a preacher in Darwin, but when the young James decided he was done playing music in a Christian rock band, it opened up difficult rifts in the family (culminating in a particularly evocative family battle in a McDonalds).

Ma’s Chinese grandmother moved from Hong Kong to Sydney at the age of 17 and eventually co-founded Sydney’s infamous Chequers nightclub after having several children, including Ma’s father. His father met his mother at university, and they travelled all around the world before settling back in Australia and starting a family. When Ma was a young child, he was dragged around to protest rally after protest rally, which instilled in him a sense of justice and inquisitiveness which went on to become a central part of his music as part of the hip-hop group TZU.

What I’ve described above are just snapshots of Ma and Mangohig’s rich family histories, which they relay in compelling fashion with live music and archival photographs. In Between Two is described as “a slide night like no other” and that’s a fairly accurate description.

Ma and Mangohig’s performances are confident (particularly for performers without much experience in this area), funny and occasionally quite moving. Dramaturgs William Yang and Annette Shun Wah are experts at shaping these kinds of personal theatrical histories, and their hand is clear in drawing the various pieces together.

These stories serve to remind of the massive diversity amongst Asian-Australian communities and the way we’re all shaped by the family histories we carry around on our backs. But they’re also just fascinating stories, very well told.

In the final segment, the pair draw parallels and meaning from these rich stories a little too explicitly — after the gentleness and narrative drive of these monologues, it’s a bit abrupt to say things like “and what are we, if not a collection of stories?”

That might be the case, but I think it’s safe to say the audience could reach that conclusion themselves.

In Between Two is at Carriageworks, Sydney until January 24. Featured image by Prudence Upton

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