Conveying the refugee experience

June 6, 2001


Directed by Claudia Chidiac
54 Joseph St, Lidcombe
Showing May 31-June 9


SYDNEY — From the moment you arrive at the venue — a vacant wallpaper shop in Lidcombe — there is a sense of unease. In the main room is an entrance way boarded up, and large immigration forms pasted to the wall. On the ground a white line along with a sign reading "Please wait behind line until called" seals the area off. A low rumbling noise oscillates in the background, making it very hard not to feel tense and uneasy.

Two performers emerge from behind the barricaded door and move toward the audience, barking directions at them in a foreign language. There is confusion. At first they begin letting some of the people through into the performance space one by one, stamping them as they pass, while sending people with plain hair or those that they just don't like the look of to the end of the queue.

One by one the performers tell their stories, the reasons for and the trauma of leaving their homelands and the extreme lengths to which they went to flee oppression. The other performers play both other refugees and the callously bureaucratic Department of Immigration (DIMA) officials or ACM guards. As each refugee tells their story they are constantly interrogated, with DIMA officials demanding "more proof" of their stories and telling them "I know you're upset, but please speak English. We're trying to help you".

Scenes are punctuated by radio news reports. Repeatedly, actual news reports about refugees are read out by the performers, each with immigration minister Philip Ruddock's views about "their behaviour" or the "tolerance" of this country for refugees.

Asylum is one of the best pieces of political theatre I have ever seen. Perhaps the best aspect of this performance is the lengths gone to draw the audience into the refugee experience. The atmosphere, the props, the sounds and music are all used to convey the same sense of confusion, claustrophobia, discomfort and humiliation — a feeling of not always understanding what is going on and, most of all, the sense of isolation resulting from being locked up in small area cut off from the rest of society.

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