The Other

What I think is magnificent about Gaël Le Cornec’s ‘The Other’ at Z-Arts is that Mana – the child refugee she plays – holds on to her fairytale long after we have seen that she is living in a nightmare. Mana escapes from the Red-yellow planet on a shooting star, meeting a unicorn and a giant along the way. She dreams of tea with the queen on the Blue planet and sees brutal soldiers as orange pumpkin headed men rendered helpless by the dust of war. Almost a children’s show at first, the story is told with impressive shadow puppetry and subtle, deceptive dialogue, the performer mainly behind the projection screen. Yet, as adults, we know that this is a story about the merciless brutality that women and children suffer as a consequence of war.

Mana emerges several times and engages the audience through direct address punctuated by giggles, including a scene where she is auctioned. The carefully choreographed balance between childish naivety, Mana’s mistaken belief that she belongs in this unfamiliar place, and the harsh reality of what is actually happening creates a deep sense of unease and empathy.

The play cuts to a detention centre and this is where Gaël Le Cornec’s ability to explore a complex character really comes to the fore. Mana is forced to interact with a dispassionate official whom she barely understands. We know that Mana’s best option is to lie but she resolutely stands by the truth. We witness the slow descent of Mana from excited newcomer to a broken number. It is her belief right to the end that we will help her that hurts most.

There are many ways to tell the story of refugees who are fleeing from war and persecution. What makes this so effective is that we get inside Mana’s head and see how she believes that she is going to a better place. We share her dreams and we share her angst. And yet, we always know that she is from another place. This is a superb portrayal of how our system breaks the dreams of those seeking a better, safer life.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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