In Between Two, Sydney Festival

In Between Two invites us into the lives and stories of Joel Ma (aka Joelistics) and James Mangohig: both born of mixed race marriages, both with Asian fathers, and both grew up into rebellious teenagers who eventually found solace in rap music.

This is an enjoyable and easy evening; sitting back and hearing two friends tell tales of their lives, which in turn prompts reflection upon one’s own life, whilst driving home an important message about racism and its effects.

James Mangohig and Joel Ma in In Between Two
James Mangohig and Joel Ma in In Between Two

Just over an hour is spent listening to these two friends recant tales of their ancestry, childhood and adolescence. It feels like being invited into their homes as they bring out the old family photo albums and laugh about their memories together. And it’s a charming and pleasant evening.

It’s an engaging performance on both parts, drawing us in from their first introductions of their respective grandmothers. Ma’s grandmother moved to Australia after marriage and eventually opened the infamous nightclub Chequers; Mangohig’s grandmother remained in the Philippines, although she often came to visit to help with her grandchildren when they lived in Adelaide and Darwin.

Mangohig’s parents started as love struck pen pals, and eventually after three failed proposals, they wed and Mangohig’s father moved to Australia. Mangohig grew up in a very religious family; his father was a devout pastor, and whilst Mangohig was involved in the church through childhood and adolescence, he eventually renounced Christianity – much to the disappointment of his parents.

Ma’s parents met at university in Sydney and after marrying travelled the globe together. Although they divorced when Ma was only two, he remembers the different influences his parents had on his life; his mother taking him to political rallies, instilling in him a sense of justice, and his father passing on his love of music.

Whilst Ma and Mangohig had starkly different childhoods, they both share the experiences of being half-Asian and growing up in Australia in the nineties, and the prejudice they faced as a consequence of this. Although some of the comments they recount are merely in passing, shrugging off the casual racist slurs they suffered, they culminate in a powerful rap that brings this subtle message clearly to the surface in a poignant moment that urges reflection and change.

Dramaturgs William Yang and Annette Shun Wah have done an effective job at seamlessly interweaving the stories so that it mostly flows freely and enhances the casual atmosphere. Although there are a few moments of forced revelation, such as the conclusion where both bring forward ‘what if’ questions; what if their parents hadn’t met, what if they hadn’t moved to Australia, yet all these questions were powerful enough when they were left unspoken and already evident to the audience through the intricate details that made their lives and friendship possible.

Whilst the charismatic story telling of Ma and Mangohig is engaging enough alone, the added elements of projected old family photos and the musical moments fit well in the relaxed tone whilst adding aesthetic appeal.


Bec Caton

Bec has a diploma in musical theatre and is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English. She is a freelance theatre writer in Sydney.

Bec Caton

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