My Fathers Left Testicle -Darkness arrives through the light. (Theatre Review)
My Fathers Left Testicle
Depot Theatre with Mustard Seed Productions
2-12 November You can grab your tickets here.
What is going on with Australian’s and this asylum seeker caper? It’s been years since the Hawke government set up mandatory detention centres and the (in)famous Woomera IRPC incident which saw six year old Somalian refugee Shyan Bedraie refusing to speak or eat. Shyan had witnessed many incidents of rioting and self-harm in his six-month detention and was being periodically removed to a hospital to be drip fed and returned. Since then, if you can imagine it, the plight of asylum seekers in Australia has gotten worse. Possibly the best symbol of the depth of this problem is the juxtaposition posed by Julia Gillard’s 2003 declaration that the Pacific Solution would be ended by Labor “because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle”only to be shockingly upended in 2010. After agreeing to her parties pressure to take over the role of leader, her first argument was that it was wrong to give special privileges to asylum seekers. This placed Labor in contention for the 2010 election which resulted in a win, and kept the right-wing extremist Tony Abbott at bay.
The Labor party felt the only way it could keep Tony Abbott out of the Prime Ministership was to give Australians what they wanted in the demonisation of Asylum Seekers. Australians have a peculiar history with people who arrive by boat to make an unsubstantiated claim on the land. That provides a possible answer to our deep seated fear – we arrived in a boat, rejected by our homeland as criminals, and took the country off the locals. Perhaps the answer to our treatment of asylum seekers is to elevate and venerate Aboriginal culture, to claim the supremacy of those here “first.” But when push comes to shove there is no starker indicator of being Australian than hating on asylum seekers – particularly when we come to terms with the fact that the left side of politics has been the instigator of both the original concept of asylum seeker camps and of the policies worst incarnation. Even an Aussie socialist (secretly) is conflicted over asylum seekers (how many lefties do you know who are doing more for asylum seekers than clucking their tongues over dinner or sending money?) as it’s in our systemic DNA.
No where is this more obvious than in the “benevolence” shown by Australian’s toward Indonesians in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Australians set the standard for international aid with the 1 billion dollar package pledged by John Howard at the height of the Pacific solution when Australia was being internationally condemned by human rights groups. By 5 January 2005, this biggest aid package ever was matched to the tune of one hundred million dollars Australians gave out of their own pockets, appeasing guilt born of foul treatment of the inhabitants of boats from Indonesia. The Pacific Solution also cost the Australian community 1 billion dollars, and was covertly seeking the return of “the boats” to their origin. By 2007 Under Kevin Rudd this partnership came to the fore and Australians got to bask in the glory of money well spent.
Theatre like My Fathers Left Testicle seeks to ask who we are and what we’re doing when we turn these (remarkably small numbers) of vulnerable people away. However it also suggests the answer to these questions lies in the vulnerability of asylum seekers. They are different to “regular” immigrants who want a better life. An Asylum seeker is a war hero of sorts, a visitor not seduced by the sun, sand and beautiful way of life we have built, but rather is an agitator, determined to call society into question. The asylum seekers integrity and legitimacy makes them more dangerous than the desperately grateful, malleable immigrant. The question “why aren’t they grateful” is regularly asked about asylum seekers sewing their lips together or self immolating. The subtext and fear is, they understand international law better than we do. They are agitators. They are intelligent. They know us better than we know ourselves. Worst of all, they are not victims. We can’t buy them off.
It is this approach that Murray Lambert takes in his enormously intelligent new work, My fathers Left Testicle. Using Commedia dell’arte, clowning, Comédie larmoyante, and others with more than a small touch of absurdist and menacing influences My Fathers Left Testicle bursts (literally) from a set made disarmingly to look like its title. Lambert’s reasoning in his program blurb is that when we laugh with folk we are able to cry with them too, but My Fathers Left Testicle reaches deeper into the Australian psyche than mere empathy. The comic elements work well to reveal a dark undercurrent in our nationalism that can only be explained by our dubious beginnings. There is a fresh hell prepared for the escapee of a war-torn country who dares to seek asylum in Australia and Lambert’s succinct use of comedy to reveal this to the audience is both hilarious (this play is very very funny) and distressing.
Lambert directs a stellar cast who bring everything to their roles, but stand out is Nick O’Regan who is (somehow) one of the funniest people I have ever seen on a stage. His deadpan mojo brings a strength to the multiple forms of comedy he tackles that adds layers to already beautifully written material. However, this is an elegantly performed piece of theatre, with all the cast showcasing skills they’ve obviously honed in rehearsal.
Given the depth and tragic nature of the material, I had a remarkable time watching My Fathers Left Testicle. It is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and leaves one thinking long and hard about its subject matter.