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Mahdi Mohammadi, Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre Mahdi Mohammadi, Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre
photo Alex Wisser

After playing to full houses at Griffin Theatre Company's The Stables in 2016, where Karen Therese was artist-in-residence, Tribunal will now play at PYT's Fairfield home from this week until 11 March. Fairfield is also the Western Sydney home to many of the people—Aboriginal and immigrant—who are the subject of this production. Some of them appear in it and what they have to tell us becomes a call to action.

In "A just hearing in the court of theatre," I wrote that Tribunal's Australian Truth and Reconciliation Tribunal, led by an Aboriginal Elder, "is a highly flexible hearing that allows for singing, dancing, re-enactments in which refugees deal with threatening Australian Government officials, and tender accounts of life in their countries of origin and in their new home. Above all, it allows Elder Aunty Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, to herself speak as a witness, providing a point-by-point analogy between the treatment of refugees and our Government’s maladministration of the lives of Aboriginal peoples. When one of the refugees asks if they can tell their story in their own words, Grovenor Dixon replies, 'It’s theatre, you can do what you like'."

Presentation is warmly and engagingly informal and the key performers—Grovenor Dixon, two young Afghan Hazaris, Mahdi Mohammadi and Jawad Yaqoubi, and community worker and lawyer Katie Green—are charismatic. Surprise guests and open discussion with the audience add to a sense of shared concern and allow us to identify directly with people we know of, if at all, as the largely anonymous subjects of news reports.

Tribunal reveals the persistent bureaucratic and social hostility with which Aboriginal people and refugees are treated and, for the latter, threats of deportaton for even minor traffic offences. The situation, as revealed by the latest Close the Gap report and the rise of the political right, is not improving, rather it has become more urgent than ever.

Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre
photo Alex Wisser

I asked Karen Therese about the current significance of Tribunal. She wrote, "It's been only six months since we performed it at Griffin and the world has changed so much. It feels more important than ever now to listen to the words of Aunty Rhonda and Mahdi Mohammadi and Jawad. In Fairfield right now 6,000 refugees from the Syrian crisis are arriving to be re-settled—6,000 just in Fairfield. It's big. There are crowds of Syrians and Iraqis in the streets outside PYT when I get my morning coffee. Doing Tribunal in Fairfield gives me opportunities to literally witness the world in action. The neighbourhood here gives me hope. We welcome everyone to visit Fairfield and support the local community."

In one of Tribunal's most affecting moments in the 2016 production, Mahdi Mohammadi and Jawad Yaqoubi recounted how they managed to reach Australia, but not their friend Nabi. Karen Therese tells me, "Nabi is on Manus Island, he's been there for four years now. We send our thoughts and our love to him."

Tribunal is set to reach a wider audience, Karen Therese tells me that it will be presented at Melbourne's Arts House in July and before that in June as a "a live art version" at Sydney's MCA.

Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre Tribunal, Powerhouse Youth Theatre
photo Alex Wisser

PYT, Tribunal, Thurs-Sat, 2-11 March, 7.30pm, The PYT Fairfield Theatre, 19 Harris St Fairfield

RealTime issue #137 Feb-March 2017 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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