Asylum – A built house closed off to the other, to others. (Theatre review)


Brave New Word Theatre Company 15 November – 25 November

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: David Hooley

When Craig (David Woodland) interviews Hajir (Eli Saad) to ascertain his asylum status, he adheres to a series of stick rules that are carefully developed value judgements already stuck in the norms of platonic truth. In other words, they remain embedded in an ideology that has never been thought through. This attempt to communicate is presumed to reach an existing Truth because it apparently divests itself of feeling; it is a language denudated of all pathos, absolutely neutral and disjoined, transmitted by someone to someone else, who has no acknowledged origin or source. This we have gleaned from mathematics and other sciences that claim to be detached, closer to the world than their producers. These language systems are supposedly faithful to reality and can only be interpreted obliquely, in surfeit. Inside, these pretentions are always a naïve claim to a childish sense of objectivity: a moral code of good conduct, political economy of the truth. But science never says “I” or “you” or “we.” Worse than staying out of that polemic, science forbids it. Science’s subject is “one.” But who is this one? This authority uses its verbs as substantives, as already officially recognized and consecrated acts. It can only make claims to non-intrusion by the subject because it is deployed in a world already always constructed. But we are not supposed to know that, or at least we are supposed to engage in a conspirators relationship with this authority without question. “I” therefore becomes truer than “one” or “it” because it declares its source. Surely to claim, “I see this, through my bias and intend to guide you to a conclusion through argument” than “One claims this because I use an unquestioned code we have already decided to be true” is a better chance at getting to a solution to anything? The first conversation allows for chance or the unexpected. The other presumes deduction based in a priori knowledge.

The natural consequence of this deduction, is that when Craig makes a statement about Hajir, he is forced to remove the “I” (as in I think, I see) and replace it with “one” (as in one observes) which means science, or impartiality is a question of linguistic style. It is an unavowed technique which cannot distinguish itself from the so-called truth.

Surely this is one of Ruth Fingret’s points when she wrote Asylum and placed Craig in a corresponding battle with his son Jason (Joshua Mcelroy) and the asylum seeker Hajir. The more Craig is likely to understand the human reality of Hajir’s life, the more he is going to react negatively because of his adherence to a supposed impartiality in language, which is really nothing more than economy of style. Ruth Fingret suggests what we imagine to be impartiality is often a reaction against something else – in other words, an unexplored emotional response. Rather than presuming an impartiality based in fact, the processing of asylum seekers is an adherence to an unexamined dogma that controls process through language. There is a profound naivety in a subject that never interrogates itself, never looks back toward its constitution, never questions its contradictions. Living beings in so far as they are alive, are a becoming. They produce form. No becoming is morphologically undifferentiated, even if its source is chaotic. When Ruth Fingret places her subjects in the room together, she weaves their language in such a manner that we are compelled to recognize a source connection that reveals the nonsense behind imagining our language can create impartiality or even differentials.

The writer of Asylum is here well supported by director Richard Hilliar and the superb cast he has assembled to interpret the text. This is a magnificent new Australian work, easily one of the best plays I have seen that attempts to tackle this subject. The issue of our partiality and our inability to see the Other is brought to the fore poignantly in this is elegantly woven seventy minutes. Just as Ruth Fingret uses words to bind her cast, Richard Hilliar does the same with the exciting found space of the Comber Street Studios. He twists and moves his cast around each other, taking full advantage of the small room and our proximity to the characters (and each other) to confront in the most intense and visceral way. He calls forth excellent performers from the entire cast, particularly David Woodland (who is so good in these ‘tortured white man’ roles) and Joshua McElroy who are entirely engaging as father and son. The pair are well supported by Eli Saad as the sophisticated immigrant Hajir, Katherine Shearer as Craig’s wife Vicky and Hannah Raven as Catherine. The opening scene, in particular is a power evocation of the uses and limits of words and the inappropriate god-like status we can be foolish enough to imagine inhabits our language without examination.

A brief shout out must also be made to Brave New Word theatre company. This strong, young production company have surged forward over the last couple of years, embracing their hits and their misses, standing firm on the ambitious project of only producing new Australian works. They’ve really hit their stride with Asylum, claiming an excellent writer with an outstanding text. This is a marvelous production, one of those joyful moments where the right director and production company find the best writer for their creative expression. Asylum is a great night of theatre and not to be missed.