Tribunal – Face to face with the deepest problem of the political left. (Theatre Review)



Griffin Theatre in association with Powerhouse Youth Theatre

This play is sold out. You can learn more about it here.

The central problem for Tribunal lay not in the many beautiful layers of its presentation of the troubling stories of those marginalised by white Australia. Rather it came to light in the all-important question time when mental health therapist Sarah Coconis joined the performers on the stage and spoke briefly to the debilitating effect incarceration due to asylum seeking has upon the human brain. As Sarah spoke about the time consuming process it takes for the human brain to “normalise” after being held in detention, an important question presented itself to all in the audience. A man obviously as moved as the rest of us by the horror of the suffering, voiced the concern weighing on the room. His question, my question, all our questions is paraphrased thus:

If a person’s brain can be affected that dramatically over a short period and lead to self-loathing, what can be done about the mainland folk who have been living under racist assumptions for two hundred years?

The answer was the terrible truth we all feared. There is a deep psychological systemic racism bread into Australians that will take decades to remove.

We were all left flat after this, trapped again in that endless spiral where the stories we hear become masturbatory artefacts upon which good liberal minded whites can appease their guilt. I am guilty, I can do nothing to change this, therefore to appease my guilt I will do something small. The suggestions flew around the room: money, get to know an asylum seeker, convince three friends to change their minds, demand more from your local and federal government. But the damage had been done. This won’t change the situation, but you should do it anyway was the message we walked away with when presented with the deeply moving narratives of personal accounts of living as a “different” person in Australia.

The challenge for the liberal left (I’m talking small L here of course) is that we are as much a part of the problem as the most extreme white supremacist. Point of fact we are worse. We know the imperative for this to change is dire, and yet we remain ineffective. As Mahdi Mohammadi said so eloquently during the show, three of his personal friends committed suicide during their incarceration period in the year and half it has taken for him to write the show. The truth is we don’t have another two and a half years to write another show that will make us all feel bad we have not affected change. We have to eschew the normal channels, recognise problems for what they are, locate the biggest strategic difference we can make and put a plan into effect. It’s the thing every one of us does as part of our work life, and part of the hectic way we survive our rush-rush days. The question is not what can we do, but who is benefiting from this situation and how can we expose and interrupt them? The question is not what can I do tomorrow so I feel better, but what is missing for the existing channels of assistance to be more effective? The question is not how large is our enemy, but what can be done in spite of them?

For Tribunal to be truly effective, for it to be a work that has achieved its aim, art needs to matter beyond placating liberal sensibilities. It needs to be a voice, that all important mirror that not only serves to transform our self-reflection but also drives us to self-correct. It’s a tall order, but in the face of the rise of the radical right in Australia, what choice do we have? What are you doing that matters more?