Lose to Win Review

Reviewed by Zuzi Fort

“I had to write Lose to Win.” Words spoken by the creator of this tour deforce show currently on at Belvoir Street Theatre. Having just come out of the performance, my senses are still tingling, and my soul is pleasantly yet somewhat sadly titillated. How do you put into words such a powerful, profound, and earthy performance? How do you describe something that bypasses the mind and bombards the senses? Still dizzy from the sensory experience, I find myself strangely lost for words (a rare occurrence, just ask my daughters).

It is not that my mind is blank, but rather, it is overflowing with the experience. I am bursting at the seams with emotions, some exhilarating and some terrifying.

So, what is this experience I am so desperately trying to describe? Hope. Today, I have felt hope. Hope in myself.  Hope in humanity. In the midst of war and tragedy, when we are bombarded with news of violence and pain. When our world is shaken to the core, I feel grounded and hopeful. Why? Lose to Win is not a light-hearted comedy that asks us to suspend disbelief and imagine some utopian world where all is well and where everyone has a happy ending. In fact, Lose to Win is anything but that. The show deals with a heartbreak of such magnitude that it has the capacity to destroy a person, yet it fails to do so. Perhaps that is why it is so evocative and inspirational; it is a tale of triumph.

Mandela Mathia, the creative genius behind this gem, takes us on a journey through the chapters of his life. Born in the midst of war, losing loved ones to violence and chance, experiencing adversity of every type, encountering prejudice in its many forms, and coming face to face with temptation, Mandela’s life is a celebration of the human spirit.

Although Lose to Win is an account of a young boy from Sudan coming to Australia to start a new life, it is, in fact, a universal narrative. It is a tale of dreams lost, dreams found and dreams that finally came true on the other side of the world. It is an emotional odyssey that we have all been on one way or another. But ultimately, it is a story that we can all relate to.

A story of growing up. A story of this struggle we call life. It is an epic as old as time itself. A chronicle of survival. No, not just surviving but thriving. Life will find its way. Life is a force of nature.

Mandela describes Lose To Win as “a celebratory story of empowerment, of everyone who had to deal with the rocks life threw and continues to throw at them, but still chose, and continue to choose, to turn these rocks into jewels and move forward”. Hope in a nutshell.

Brilliantly written using the narrative style of the strolling players of days past, incorporating song and dance, poetry and movement, audience interaction, and his mother tongue, Mandela certainly created a theatrical jewel.

Set and Costume Designer Keerthi Subramanyam, together with Lighting Designer Kate Baldwin, created a magnificent immersive experience. The set was designed with earthy tones and colours that correspond so well with the theme and mood of the entire piece.

A small black rectangle on the floor of the stage evokes images of life-giving soil, perhaps characterising the connection we all have to this earth and representing the grounding force of nature, of faith and our own humanity. Accompanied by the simple beat of a tribal drum, so instinctively provided by Yacou Mbaye, is suggestive of the percussion of our hearts. A combination of shadows and mismatched yet somehow beautifully cohesive pieces create a somewhat dream-like, surreal set. Not dreamy, there are many nightmares that the place represents, but ethereal. This set represents not only a real place but also the place Mandela holds in his heart. And somehow, it also represents a place we all carry in our hearts. There are many names for this place. Let’s call it home. Home that we all carry in our hearts, imprinted on our souls. Home that is our loved one – those who passed and those still with us.

Finally, what might surprise a few and what balances this superb performance is Mandela’s humility and humour. It is this humour that highlights the tragedy. It is this humour that delivers the punches. Yes, it is a story of incredible soul-crushing loss, but it is also a story of discovery and the realisation that, somehow, we are all connected regardless of differences.

To me, this is epic. In fact, I would call this entire peace a no-punches-pulled-slam-poem. Don’t go in wanting to ponder the meaning of life. Go and experience life. Don’t analyse the performance. Feel it. Don’t sit back and watch. Have a dialogue with Mandela; after all, he speaks to you, to each and every one of us.







25 APR – 19 MAY 24



TICKETS: https://my.belvoir.com.au/overview/13037

Cover photography by Daniel Boud

Rehearsal photography by Brett Boardman