Returning Sudanese: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

As the lead performer and co-writer of Return Sudanese which is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Akoch is a natural entertainer – he exudes confidence, is relaxed and laid back.
Returning Sudanese: Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Returning Sudanese: Melbourne International Comedy Festival From the time he fled Sudan, Akochh Manhiem’s journey of arrival to Australia in 2003 was a tale of survival. The Director of the Sudanese Lost Boys Association of Australia was caught by Arab militias to join their army. Being too young he was relegated to looking after the horses and cattle. He managed to escape – despite the dangers of starvation and being preyed upon by the militia and wild animals, Akoch made it to a refugee camp in Kenya where he stayed for five years before being awarded refugee status in Australia. Akoch is part of the generation of Sudanese children separated from their families by the civil war between the Arab Muslims of the North and the Christians/Animists of the South. Aid workers gave these children the name “Lost Boys”. The premise of Returning Sudanese is straightforward. It is about Akoch’s visit to Sudan to see his family after a hiatus of ten years, and then returning to Australia where he now calls home. The show is set at a custom check point; metaphorically at the borders of Australia. His entry is marred by a fine detail – he cannot cite his exact date of birth, as he wasn’t born in a hospital. A ridiculous interrogation eventuates despite Akoch’s Australian citizenship status. The bombastic white male custom officer played by Trent McCarthy, dominates the entire conversation whilst he cross- examines a gentle and soft-spoken Akoch. The cross-examination belies the hidden malice of the officer, disbelieving Akoch’s honesty about being an Australian citizen or living in Australia. To enable a speaking voice for Akoch, the interaction between the two is frozen; this device allows Akoch to deliver a monologue in which he defends himself and exposes the cruelty as well as the funny side of his experiences of first arriving and then living in Australia. From an unfortunate encounter with a sniffer dog to thinking that his house was crying when the smoke alarm went off to his first encounter with automatic sliding doors, Akoch charmed the audience with his anecdotes. As the lead performer and co-writer, Akoch is a natural entertainer – he exudes confidence, is relaxed and laid back. Trent McCarthy, the director and co-writer, inhabits the role of the annoying and arrogant custom officer easily. Ajak Kwai, an accomplished singer and songwriter, who’s also a Sudanese refugee, performs beautiful musical interludes and also has a small acting role in the show. Despite opening night nerves and some minor technical hitches, the production flowed easily between different mediums – musical cabaret, multimedia, stand up and skit. We do have a couple of criticisms about the way the narrative flowed. Even though multimedia was used to show Akoch’s trip to Sudan, some of the photos and video seemed like add-on parts, and didn’t really answer the custom officer’s demand of showing proof to Akoch living in Australia. Ajak’s role could have been better built into the scripting of the production. It also felt like another add-on part. Another criticism was also our desire to hear Akoch’s experiences as a refugee fleeing Sudan woven into the narrative. This was central in the narrative, but unfortunately absent in the text. Earlier this year, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that the main issue faced by the 250,000 Africans living in Australia was racism. In 2007, 18 year old Sudanese refugee, Liep Gony was bashed to death by two white men. His death sparked former immigration minister Kevin Andrews’ claim that the Sudanese were having trouble integrating into Australian society, hence his justification into cutting African refugees intake. As a production, Returning Sudanese is an important show to see because it tells the story of Akoch Manheim – a refugee who fled a war-torn country to becoming a leader in his new country. Returning Sudanese: Melbourne International Comedy Festival Date: 17 - 26 April Times: Fri-Sun 7pm (60 mins) Duration: 60 minutes Venue: Northcote Town Hall - Studio 1 Wheelchair access 189 High St, Northcote

Lian Low & Raina Peterson

Monday 20 April, 2009

About the author

Lian Low and Raina Peterson are freelance writers.