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  • Writer's pictureJordan Anderson

Asylum by Ruth Fingret - Review by Jordan Anderson

Pictured - Levi Kenway as Jason. Photo credit Renee Nowytarger

I must say, when I sat down to watch Aslum by Ruth Fingret in The Greek Centre in Marrickville, I really had no idea what to expect.  My date for the evening and I discussed possible ideas of what we thought.  Would it be someone seeking Asylum in Australia from a war torn country?  Could it possibly be someone seeking sanctuary from a danger they’ve found themselves in, or could it be something intangible, seeking Asylum from dealing with mental health issues and illnesses?  Well, we were kind of right, it’s maybe a little bit of all three and in truth even days after seeing it, I’m still finding more that this play was telling us about.  It’s about the cold, calculated bureaucracy that the Australian Justice System works by. It’s about how mental health can alienate and fracture families and it’s about humanity and compassion and the choices we as people make.

Ruth Fingret’s script is incredibly detailed and very clever, weaving together three stories masterfully.  She not only shows the audience the narrative, but she asks them to think, to acknowledge their prejudices and question what they would do in the same situation.  I’m still finding myself trying to understand and relate to the characters in ways I wouldn’t have expected, to take some preconceived notions that I may have had and ask, were they right or were they wrong?

Pictured - Elie Saad as Hajir. Photo credit Renee Nowytarger

I’m not going to spell out the plot as I believe you should go and see it like I did, with an open mind to what you’ll see. I do, however, want to give the actors their due, as this was an incredibly challenging script in multiple ways and they all rose to the challenge.  Elie Saad as Hajir was one of the true emotional highlights of the show. As a Lebanese immigrant seeking asylum in Australia, Saad’s portrayal effortlessly twisted the emotions of the audience to face some of the true horrors Hajir fled from.  Beyond that there was a further depth to his character which was just heartbreaking to watch. Dianne Weller as Vikki was also a true highlight of the show.  Weller’s depiction of a woman suffering from Bipolar Disorder was beautiful to watch, mix this with an obvious love, but inability to express it, for her son and she put together an incredibly complicated character.

Emma Burns played Christine, the tough police constable, with a practiced certainty, it was clear she was always in control of the moment. While the role could be shown as cold and uncaring,  It was clear that Burns played her with a deep-seated care and a hope that she was truly trying to make a difference in people’s life.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, Levi Kenway played Jason and he truly embodied the Western-Sydney lad, seemingly uncaring and unfazed about what happens to him and where he is, until he starts lashing out in Anger once he realises the true danger he is in.  Another complicated role, his characterisation made it impossible to not also empathise with him to an extent.

Pictured - Chris Miller as Craig. Photo credit Renee Nowytarger

Chris Miller portrays the lynchpin to the story, Craig.  Through his eyes we see the stories of Hajir, Jason and Vikki and we also see how uncaring and impersonal the Australian Justice system can really be.  Through him we see a man who has tried too many times and been hurt too many times to really care.  Writing this makes it seem like the characters are unlikable, it’s a true testament to the ability of the actors and the quality of the script, that you do care for them and you care for their story.  Miller was well suited to this role, showing a man who was stuck between doing what he thinks is right and what his job entails.  The emotional turmoil that came from him is paramount to the story and was well channeled through him.

Director Olga Tamara has done a wonderful job bringing together this production.  She focused on allowing the script and the actors to do the heavy lifting.  I was particularly drawn to the power levels of the actors on stage, particularly between Vikki and Craig, which often shift and change,bringing new points and ideas to light. It’s clear that she spent a lot of time, focusing on these dynamics and how it propels the story and the ideas forward.  This is expressed within the set, lighting and sound design as well.

The set, while simple, easily distinguishes the three main locations of the immigration office, police interview room and Craig and Jason’s house.  While the story was at times fast paced and frenetic often at times with dialogue overlapping in different scenes, by limiting the actors to these locations on stage, it made it much easier to follow what was happening and when. This was of course helped by a clever lighting design by Mehran Mortezaei.  I must also mention the epic score by Greg Skehill which really helped keep the pace of the show.

This show only gets to run for 2 weekends, so catch it while you can.  Director Olga writes in her note that ‘here we are in 2024 ready to put on a play we are all proud of’ and I certainly think that they have succeeded. This has become a show and production very well deserving of all the accolades it receives and I look forward to seeing how it grows in the years to come.

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