Friday 15 November 2019

The Audition - Theatre Review

What: The Audition
When: 13 - 24 November 2019
Written by: Patricia Cornelius, Sahra Davoudi, Tes Lyssiotis, Wahibe Moussa, Milad Norouzi, Melissa Reeves and Christos Tsiolkas
Directed by: Irine Vela
Performed by: Sahra Davoudi, Vahideh Eisaei, Milad Norouzi, Peter Paltos, and Mary Sitarenos
Design by: Adrienne Chisholm
Lighting by: Gina Gascoigne
Dramaturgy by: Maryanne Lynch
Stage managed by: Genevieve Cizevskis
Peter Paltos and Sahra Davoudi - photo by Darren Gill
The Audition is a new production by Outer Urban Projects and is currently playing at La Mama Courthouse. The generative impetus is to correlate the uncertain life of the actor to the uncertain life of the refugee. Whilst I am not sure it achieves it goals, it has evolved into a powerful portrait of the refugee experience, pulling at the heartstrings and demonstrating the pain of the negligent cruelty of our Australia refugee processes.

Outer Urban Projects is a company which takes the voices of disaffected communities in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and finds innovative performance modes in which to amplify them into the general community. In many ways The Audition is, perhaps, the exception to the rule in that Vela (director) has chosen to use the short play format, so popular in Melbourne currently, to tell a sequence of unrelated and yet inherently related stories to highlight the uncertainty and impermanence and randomness of our refugee processes.

The Audition brings together the old Melbourne Workers Theatre team of Vella, Tsiolkas (writer - 'Ava and Vida'), Cornelius (writer - 'The Doll'), and Reeves (writer - 'You Made Us A Promise What You Told Us Today Would Be True') along with emerging artists to tell this tale of displacement and disempowerment. What makes this show different from other versions of this type of theatre is Vela has interwoven the stories so that they blend and merge, giving a strong sense of commonality and the idea - almost cubist in nature - of how this disenfranchisement and punishment for the mere act of wanting life is happening in so many iterations in so many places at the same time and across time.

The reason I say at the start the show does not reach it's goals is because I don't think the plight of the actor as a cogent analogy has really been explored. Instead, most of the scenes which address auditions focus on discrimination which is absolutely true and legitimate but speaks more the conversation about community integration rather than a parallel of otherness across two disparate communities. A painful truth, but not quite as advertised. It may perhaps be because the connection is tenuous at best and therefore better left behind as a seedling of possibility which was never able to thrive.

One of the things I really adore about The Audition is how Vella has chosen to use the qanun (played by Eisaei) as the primary musical accompaniment. It is not only beautiful but is a stunning meta-narrative about the richness and complexity of the Persian culture played on the backdrop of the impressively invoked vast red/brown earth of the Australian landscape created by Chisholm (designer). In fact, that other parallel of sparse, dry lands is also commented on in this aesthetic and provides a powerful backdrop for 'Woomera' (written by Lyssiotis).

Again, working on multiple levels is Cornelius' piece which shows the plight of an auditioning actor (Sitarenos) who is evidently of non-English ethnicity when trying to audition for a lead role in an the iconic Australian play Summer Of The Seventeeth Doll. Originally the concept was for the actor to be auditioning for Pearl which would have spoken strongly to the ideas in other pieces questioning whether there is a 'right' way to be, or do, or act in order to be given a place - either in the play or in the Australian community. Somewhere along the lines the idea changed though, and now the actor is auditioning for the lead role of Olive which narrows the narrative to only one of discrimination and removes some of the nuances of the original concept of both the monologue and The Audition I think.

What this does do, however, is embed the link between this monologue and Tsiolkas' scene. In 'Ava and Vida' the discrimination is spoken of more directly and includes a narrative about how young Australia is and how we don't understand the complexities and nuances of deep, deep history or the refugee experience. The great irony of this discrimination really comes to the foreground in Moussa's 'I Can Be Her' as Davoudi tries to audition for the the role of Hecuba in a production of Trojan Women.

Again, I don't know if this is entirely true as most of the Australian population is immigrant in nature and come from peoples which go back deep in time. What is different though is ours is a broken history and we are people who have been willing (and in some cases unwilling) to break our ties and begin a new iteration of life and culture. It is this iteration which embodies the newness and it is this which creates the tensions with refugees from the Persian Gulf (which is the focus of the refugee stories in this work).

Ironically it is this very newness which ought to make us more understanding and more welcoming. Instead we huddle closer so that nobody new can join the group and we inflict the worst pain available which is loss of identity and self through marginalisation and imprisonment. Please note, I am deliberately not speaking about our First Nations people because that is a whole different and much bigger conversation and outside the scope of The Audition.

I feel also that these three pieces miss an important point about acting though. It is redundant for an actor to say they 'know' the character when they don't know the production. Thus, the cry of 'I know who this is' is no justification for casting. I normally wouldn't comment on this except that it resonates so often across this show. A play is a motile creature in performance so you cannot 'know' a character before you know the vision for the production as a whole. You cannot make those judgements from the page alone. Having said that, my comments are not meant to detract from the truth of the unnecessary racial discrimination which has haunted our white, patriarchal stages for the entire life of this English colony.

There is so much to say about The Audition, but I will end by commenting on the lyrical beauty of Norouzi's 'Beautiful Jail' (written and performed by Norouzi). Rather than looking at the fences as happens in the earlier piece, 'Woomera', Norouzi focuses on the sky above. Looking up he sees light and space, hopes and dreams rather than his incarceration in the middle of nowhere. Gascoigne's gentle yet ingenious lighting comes to the fore as he wanders vast spaces in his mind, although only a few steps in his body.

Whilst The Audition is not entirely what I was expecting, it is a beautiful and painful piece of theatre trying to help us understand the plight of refugees generally, and their experiences in trying to become Australian. I was especially moved by Davoudi's comparison of death to losing her 'voice' should she have to return to her country in'Seven Days'. Women across the world can relate to this - even Australian women. Hear these stories and then think about what we have done, what we are doing, and what we can do better from tomorrow.

4 Stars

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