Thursday, 8 July 2004

Something to Declare by Michael Gurr, July 8, 2004

Something to Declare by Michael Gurr 
By Actors for Refugees
Melbourne Town Hall, Thursday 8 July, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 8, 2004

The term "queue jumping" takes on a whole new slant while waiting for this play about refugees.

The queue for Something to Declare ran from the Melbourne Town Hall up Swanston and Collins and into Russell. The Hall was filled almost to capacityAbout 1500 people flocked to support the asylum seekers and the Actors For Refugees performance.

Four respected actors, (Helen Morse, Pamela Rabe, Alison Whyte and Daniela Farinacci.) and director, Bruce Myles, gave their time and commitment to this performance. There is also a singing group of six and four musicians who provide song before and after the play and music underscoring the readings.

The script is read rather than enacted. Writer, Michael Gurr, uses verbatim transcripts of interviews with refugees in detention in Australia.
He weaves between them snatches of facts and figures about asylum seekers, politicians' sound bites and bits of government policy.

The balance of these components is impeccable and Gurr's own occasional interpolated comments are witty and resonate with the audience. The spine of the play is the gripping and emotional story told by an Iraqi woman who was on a boat that sank as it approached Australia. All but 45 of the 400 smuggled asylum seekers drowned.

Helen Morse reads this role with great sensitivity and skill. She allows us to feel the woman's pain as she floats, watching people drown, wishing for her own death and searching for her son.

References to the Pacific Solution an Phillip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone elicit both laughs and groans. The gruesome details of the most punitive detention centres in our lucky country bring gasps of shock from the sympathetic audience.

We are reminded that children are suffering in detention and of the absurdity of some of the decisions by government agencies about refugee status.

We puzzle over the changes in Australian refugee policy as does the Iraqi woman.
People, we are reminded, live on temporary protection visas with no rights and no security. Some have been detained for four years and have become institutionalised and are afraid of the outside. Others resort to desperate measures to have their cases heard.

We are as confused as they are by their treatment as criminals instead of victims. This project is not only commendable but beautifully structures and performed by the cast of fine actors.

By Kate Herbert

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