'Asylum' tackles refugee dilemma, family crises

May 9, 2024
scene from the play
Photo: Supplied

Asylum is a hard-hitting play about the intersection of the refugee crisis and the severe problems facing families in a period of social tension. Written by Ruth Fingret and directed by Olga Tamara, Asylum stars Chris Miller, Eli Saad, Levi Kenway, Dianne Weller and Emma Burns, with lighting design by Mehran Mortezai. The stage design is a clever and effective interplay of three settings — an immigration department office, a home living room and a police station.  

At the centre of the drama is Craig, an immigration officer, who is interrogating Hajir, a Lebanese asylum-seeker about his claim for refugee status in Australia. Meanwhile, policewoman Catherine is questioning Craig's son Jason about an alleged armed robbery at a party. Adding to the drama is the return of Vicky, Craig's estranged wife, who has severe mental illness and personal struggles to deal with, going back to the troubled childhood of their son.

The play counterposes the rigidity of Australia's immigration system, and the judicial system as well, with the very human and emotional dilemmas faced by real-life individuals caught up in their tentacles. Craig is initially a hard-liner in both his immigration officer job and his home life, but faces huge challenges in practice in both roles.  

All the characters are caught up in telling lies, but can the system, and the individuals involved, deal with their implications — and see the greater need for humanity and justice as a greater good than the original, understandable untruths?  

The play highlights the tensions in Australian society right now between a rigid immigration law that is supposedly aimed at "protecting" the community, a family environment that often fails to adequately deal with disharmony, and a legal system that is full of contradictions. 

Fingret says she likes to put the personal into the political: “When disparate lives cross, they invariably affect each other. Asylum is a play about where people go when put under pressure: some flee — literally; some retreat into a rigid system to feel secure; some act out against authority; others fall prey to disintegration and mental illness. This story is about human nature and the choices we make.”  

Director Olga Tamara was drawn to Asylum's raw depiction of dishonesty and emotional disconnection: “We feel empathy for all the characters despite their bad choices in the attempt to protect themselves and those they love. This is an intelligent piece of writing that will make us all think.”  

The content, direction and acting in Asylum are universally excellent. We hope it gains another season in the near future.

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