ASYLUM: PERSONAL RESPONSES/ POLITICAL POWER

ASYLUM is ‘big picture’ theatrical thinking.

Use the word refugees at an end of year office party and you may well have a host intervene to warn you off. “No politics, it’s Christmas!” Stick to something safer.  Family perhaps?  Some people fail to see the danger in the domestic.

Craig is one of these guys.  A petty bureaucrat, he interviews, assesses and makes recommendations concerning asylum seekers.  He’s an apparatchik with power and his controlling, rule-riven thinking is also apparent in the chaos of his family life.

Craig is not the only creator of chaos.  A might-be-lying young man is accused of menace, Jason.  A might-be-lying Lebanese seeker is applying for compassion, Hajir.  There’s a green police constable trying to objectively interrogate, Christine.  And the quintet is completed by a chaotic woman who appears to be lying to herself, Vicky.

The two thematic strands of ASYLUM come together slowly.  The use of multiple colliding, staccato and parallel conversations in the early part of the play engages the intellect to work out what and who is connected.  Once the connections drop into place, the emotions kick in.  Then something very interesting and personal happened to me.

I’m not young, I’m riddled with arthritis.  The chairs are hard, it’s a small, bare space in an art gallery, it’s hot, I’m awfully close to the people beside me.  Seriously uncomfortable.  Engaged and interested but alert for indications of a finale.  Increasingly agitated and desperate for freedom.  It’s not till I bolt and hit the fresh night air that I twig what is going on here.  It’s a pretty mild uncomfortableness really isn’t it?

Empathy. Individual responses and reactions.  Perhaps for me, prejudices and dispassion in focus. Observing and listening, I see each audience member touched differently as they chatter and confer while leaving the space.   Not just by the intelligent and driven text by Ruth Fingret or the focussed, close up performances of the cast but the director Richard Hilliar has gently nudged each viewer’s thinking forward by providing theatre that works on multiple levels.  A personal experience for sure but not Artaud, not violent, not reactionary. Or scary.  ASYLUM has a narrative that holds and closed in staging that confines.

However, it wouldn’t work if it was just directorial conceptualisation and excellent writing.  The cast (Joshua McElroy, Katherine Shearer, David Woodland, Eli Saad, Hanna Raven) are formidable.  Perhaps a little too loud too often which affects the emotional impact of the two climaxes but that is a small gripe.  Their command of the physical, their cohesive expression of text and an emotional range that brings the required truth to their characters puts the personal in a political story.

And make no mistake … ASYLUM is politics.  Big picture politics painted with intimacy.

Brave New Word’s ASYLUM continues at the Comber Street Gallery in Paddington until 25th November.  For more information visit:

http://bnwtheatre.com.au/index.php/asylum/

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