Asylum “One” – Theatre examines the question of seeking asylum. (Theatre Review)

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Asylum – One

Old 505 Theatre from 3 – 15 February

You can buy your tickets here.

Over the next couple of weeks in Sydney, theatre professionals are coming together to give voice to the very real problem of what to do in our society about our on going treatment of those individuals seeking asylum or refugee status in this country. Five separate events, each given three nights of representation, will contain several short plays by our cities great playwrights (and we do have so many truly great playwrights) examining the countries hot topic of our position on asylum seekers. To quote the Apocalypse Theatre blurb on this event:

Operation Sovereign Borders was the policy the Coalition government took to the September 2013 Federal election – a military-led response to ‘combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders’.
Playwrights from across the country have been invited to create new plays that respond to one of the most contested ideas in Australia’s identity. How will our stage respond to Operation Sovereign Borders? What do our great storytellers have to say? The selected plays have been matched to directors and actors for two weeks of quick-response theatre.
Fasten your seatbelt.

All artists involved will waive their fees so that ticket sales can be donated, in full, to the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown & the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (asrc) in Melbourne.

The immediate question is, of course, what can theatre do that can possibly make a difference? In the light of recent attention grabbing campaigns such as interrupting the tennis designed to attract the international eye, theatre can be accused of taking an intellectual approach to a societal problem that requires action. But this question goes to the heart of what it means to make, perform and witness theatre. So what does theatre tell us about the uniquely Australian version of problems of racism, asylum, refugee status, fear of the other, national conflicts and so on?

The task of theatre is not to provide the answers to these problems but to show us that how we perceive a problem can itself be part of a problem. Theatre’s primary task is to demystify, rather than to solve. Theatre makers look deep into the national psyche and closely examine the question of why good, hardworking people who love their children, neighbors and families would turn on any defenseless person reaching out for their assistance. There are not only wrong answers to this examination, but there are wrong questions also. The wrong questions usually come from an ideology of some sort that, in response to an undoubtedly real problem, has introduced its own mystification. The temptation to resort to ideology (that inevitably grounds us in zealotry) is something we all face, regardless of our position on this particular issue, and it is this that must be circumvented for our nation to find creative and real solutions to these problems. Only the distanced, inquiring eye of art, and in this case theatre, can serve this essential role in a genuine solution that might be beyond today’s version of “Truth.”

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So when the extraordinary founder of The Apocalypse Theatre Company (Dino Dimitriades) decide on “immediate response theatre” as an act to fully encounter the problems of what we are allowing to happen to our asylum seekers, it is an act of courage to question and examine at a time when our ideologies are running high in order to defend our choices. They have called theatre writers to express what they have witnessed in this country over the last decade or so, culminating in the extreme position our current (fully democratically elected) government are taking – reminding those of us who sent their vote elsewhere, that we still get the politicians we deserve. Over five separate and yet conjoined events, we will be given the opportunity to come face to face with ourselves over this issue.

Night one saw plays by Hilary Bell, Cybele McNeil, Tasnim Hossain and Christopher Bryant performed to a packed room at the Old 505 Theatre that focused on the silenced voice of our guests suffering at our hand. Hilary Bell’s piece included a series of highly skilled performers standing together reading directly from the transcripts of witnesses to the Christmas Cove disaster of 2010 that saw forty-eight of ninety asylum seekers die the ocean where their boat shipwrecked. The transcripts include the broader witness, social media, newspaper and the general opinion of who these people are – all in the overwhelming wake of which voices are missing. Christopher Bryant offers a searing piece about a man named Arman who finds himself trapped between two nightmares; a homeland filled with torture and pain in prison or a new world filled with mental torture and pain in prison. Tasnim Hossain wrote a beautiful monologue about a young Palestinian-Syrian refugee about to run a highly publicised race to raise awareness of asylum seekers, who meets and runs next to a young Australian aid worker who volunteers to run in solidarity. And then there is Cybele McNeil’s very contemporary piece about a man driven to a hunger strike by a surrounding narrative that leaves him voiceless.

All these plays offer fresh perspective, not just by giving speech to the speechless but also by revealing to us that political differences between nations, that is differences of democracy and social freedoms, are neutralised into cultural differences in order for us to be able to accommodate our official position in this country. Asylum is a question of freedom and speech and democracy, not cultural differences and this is the sort of essential understanding that our writers and our theatre making artists can tell us.

All artists involved will waive their fees so that ticket sales can be donated, in full, to the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown & the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (asrc) in Melbourne. Grab tickets here.

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