By Nicola Bennett
The Audition is the latest poignant piece at La Mama Theatre to tug at audience heartstrings, holding a mirror to the ludicracy of the asylum seeker experience in Australia while also (for the most part) achieving notable artistic outcomes. The premise of the actor’s “audition” is a context for human apprehension and pressure to perform, and not necessarily as the actor would like, but according to the expectations of the judging audience. This metaphor anchors the play’s various characters to a common theme of displaced people trying to connect with one another despite the political storm and unjust power imbalance that controls much of their circumstance. The show’s multiple playwrights, including Christos Tsiolkas, author of the renowned Australian powerhouse “The Slap”, pull no punches in highlighting a broken immigration system that leaves real human desolation in its wake.
The performance follows the plight of multiple asylum seeker characters, from varying countries of origin and circumstance. The play’s narrative heavily uses a monologue format for performers to convey their conflicting and frustrating experiences as they navigate our immigration and refugee policies. This creates the effect of the asylum seeker as the disempowered auditionee, presenting before us with their lines learnt and ready to present whatever story would appease the judge before them.
The play opens with a lengthy monologue skilfully handled by Mary Sitarenos, as her audition piece is rejected due to not being “dinky di” enough. Her delivery is poised and sharp, but whether the entirety of the marathon-like monologue is critical in the opening stance of the production is questionable. Peter Paltos and Sahra Davoudi shine in their roles, bringing unexpected warmth and complexity to the tense stand-off between immigration officer as the auditioner and the Iranian applicant who is auditioning for the role of Australian resident. Milad Norouzi completes the cast’s quartet, with softly spoken tone that on occasion teeters towards that of being monotonous, but for the most part resembles the exhaustion and resignation of the precariously situated asylum seeker that he portrays.
Each actor performs in dual roles, also depicting the vicious tragedy of the lived asylum seeker experience within an isolated detention centre. The cruelty and hypocrisy that retains the individuals within their caged boundaries are exposed and made real by each member of the cast as their character copes with their harsh and open-ended reality. The actors’ ability to portray desperation without overplaying these moments are worthy of mention and effectively trigger emotional connection with the audience in the most sincere and heartbreaking way.
Vahideh Eisaei provides the majority of the production’s musical structure, remaining onstage with regular instrumental backing via a traditional Iranian kanun. This adds body to the production without making it over-dramatised or adding corniness to a very politically charged topic with human lives snagged in the crossfire. The productions small cast of four actors and a musician otherwise occupy a vast performance space with minimal prop inclusion. The floor surface covered in a dusty orange hue that immediately takes the mind to the red dust of the Australian outback, further creating a scene of desolation and isolation in the stories of the detained asylum seekers.
To observe this play is to engage in a critical political conversation that needs to continue, albeit with more voices and volume to ensure real change happens sooner rather than later. The vulnerability of the immigration auditionees is revealing and emotional viewing, but strikes an important cord in checking our privilege as judges and authorities compared to those in the hot political seat. I urge audiences to see the Audition for themselves before it closes on 24th November.
Image Credit: Darren Gill
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.