In Transit by Wanjiku Kiarie Sanderson is a moving tribute to the late NZ actor, Martyn Sanderson. However, this powerful work of theatre is also much more.
The performance begins with seven dancers accompanied by the commanding vocals of Milly Grant-Koria. The movements are slow, deliberate and exquisite and blend Pasifika and African influences to tell of a young man in search of himself.
However, In Transit differs from traditional coming-of-age stories. The narrative, largely circular, refuses to be wedged into a cliched migrant story nor does it trade in stereotypes. Instead, under the direction of Justine Simei-Barton (assisted by choreographers Alfdaniels Mabingo and Charlene Tedrow, and music director Poulima Salima), the work offers a layered and introspective examination of a community navigating the challenges of living in Aotearoa.
Ahmed (Fathe Tesfamariam) is the lead in this 90 minute production, a young graduate from NZ drama school, Toi Whakaari. He hasn’t had much luck with work and has decided to turn to writing. Encouraged by Mzee Fikira (Stuart Devenie) he sets out collecting stories from different members of the community.
These tell of transit, sacrifice, change, displacement and dislocation but equally, stories that reflect the experiences of African youth, both their frustrations and eagerness to create a place for themselves in contemporary New Zealand society today.
“You never hear of a Tongan calling themselves Tongan Kiwis,” says Gillette [Mohamed Abdilah], “How can we be African Kiwis?” It’s a powerful moment in the script.
Playwright Wanjiku Kiarie Sanderson also performs as Sababu, a woman who came to New Zealand as a refugee. Arguably one of the most complex characters in this script, Sanderson stands out, embodying her character with a compelling vulnerability.
Devenie also gives a laudable performance, both as Martyn Sanderson and a brash but irritatingly insightful American. However, it is the powerful speech he delivers (as Martyn) when faced with an ex-rebel in Kenya that is unequivocally one of the production’s most stilling moments.
The play is slightly long, especially as there is no intermission, and some of the drama needs to be accelerated. Nevertheless, the cast, musicians and dancers all give excellent performances. Collectively, it is a call to recognise, that at some level, we are all in transit.