info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
KIT LAZAROO’S ASYLUM BEGINS LONG BEFORE THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM. THE AUDIENCE CANNOT HELP BUT PONDER THE BUREAUCRATIC WALL CONFRONTING US INSIDE LA MAMA. FILING CABINETS, RELICS FROM A BUREAUCRATIC PAST, ARE VAULTED ALONG A REAR WALL. WHEN PSYCHIATRIST LALLY BLACK ENTERS, SHE IS DWARFED BY THE DATA OF THOSE WISHING TO FLEE PERSECUTION AND BEGIN A NEW LIFE IN AUSTRALIA. ASYLUM, KIT LAZAROO’S PLAY IMPLIES, IS AN ISSUE CONFRONTING US ALL, YET SOMETIMES IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED WAYS.

Black sits at her desk reading reports, and watching a mechanised tortoise creep along the floor. When asylum seeker Yu Siying enters demanding a letter of recommendation, the progress of the tortoise resonates as an image of bureaucratic inefficiency and evolving psychosis. All four characters in Asylum are going stark raving mad. But Siying is alone in having an obvious reason for doing so. Under surveillance by the Chinese government, her paranoid delusions extend toward those she now relies upon to remain within Australia. But psychiatrist Black, her deaf brother Smudge and barking immigration bureaucrat Turlough Dando are also hallucinating. Apart from some unconvincing childhood trauma, there is no obvious reason for their unsettled states of mind. This maybe a flaw in Lazaroo’s script, but it also hints at a power psychosis: a collective madness residing among politicians, bureaucrats and the general public too as we wrestle with current government policy on asylum seekers. In this play, the lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum and we have all become prisoners behind a bureaucratic wall.

Paradoxically, the filing cabinets that imprison the characters in Asylum are also gateways to memory and dream. A fit of compassion toward the plight of asylum seekers results in cabinets flinging open their drawers. Siying’s traumatic past, during which she is forced to provide sexual favours for her father’s friends, is played out by marionettes; an adroit choice of form in a play about bureaucratic manipulation and state tyranny. Yet this alliance between the actual and the magical is uneasy. The production’s ‘kooky’ tone does not take into account that asylum is not a kooky place to be, either for those seeking it or those forgotten behind its walls.

When Turlough Dando spreads margarine over white bread while delivering a tirade about his personal life, his psychosis (its subjective roots in fear, its explicit manifestation in public policy, and a crazed desire to both feed, and feed upon asylum seekers) becomes clear. But even this scene is restrained as if Asylum’s creators insist that madness must be made palatable by forcing it to reside within a one-dimensional framework of quirkiness. The upshot is that some striking and original imagery does not resonate poetically. At play’s end, when Siying is stuffed into a filing cabinet and entrapped in a bureaucratic maze, the audience should feel great sympathy. Instead, I left the theatre wondering whether kooky was the right theatrical framework for a play about bureaucracy gone mad, and the dire consequences of a psychotic immigration policy.


Asylum, writer Kit Lazaroo, director Jane Woollard, performers Glynis Angell, Tom Considine, Fanny Hanusin, Tim Stitz, design Amanda Johnson, sound Peter Farnan, lighting Richard Vabre; La Mama, Melbourne, March 15-April 1

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 38

© Tony Reck; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top