Wednesday, 16 March 2005

SubClass 26A, February 16, 2005

 SubClass 26A
 fortyfivedownstairs  February 16 to 27, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on February 16, 2005

SubClass 26A is an evocative representation of the plight of refugees in Australian detention centres.

Six performers, directed by Bagryana Popov, depict the refugees' experience using abstracted movement, repetition, fragmented dialogue and extracts from government document.

Stark lighting (Richard Vabre) includes fluorescent overhead lights to create a clinical environment for these isolated and desperate figures in the almost empty white space. (Anna Tregloan)

Percussive music (Elissa Goodrich) creates a simple soundscape to enhance the hollowness of the atmosphere.

This is not a narrative-based work but, rather, a series of oblique reflections upon the experiences of our refugees.

We witness them being moved about meaninglessly, forced into chairs, trying to understand incomprehensible and foolish instructions from three warders. (Simon Ellis, Nadja Kostich, Natalie Cursio)

Their days are regimented. They are called to meals, English lessons and interviews. Much of their time is spent waiting. They wait for news, information, answers, letters and for notice of their next visa interview.

Mostly, they wait for someone to believe them and not to treat them as criminals.

Although there is no single narrative thread, there are three detainees we come to know.

One is Abdullah Abdullah from Afghanistan, (Rodney Afif) the second is an Iraqi refugee (Majid Shokor) and the third a despairing young woman who suffers profound grief. (Ru Atma)

They are interrogated, never abused but abandoned, ignored, pushed from place to place, disbelieved and mistrusted.

There are some charming and funny vignettes. The two men (Afif and Shokor) play soccer and are joined by the male warder (Ellis). However, it turns into a power battle.

There are ironic references by the female warder (Kostich) to the movie, Pretty Woman, which seems light years away from the experience of the refugees.

The final images of Abdullah are poignant when he is demanding to be heard, fighting for his dignity and finally giving up when he hears his visa is rejected.

The piece becomes a little repetitive and is perhaps longer than it can successfully sustain but it is definitely an interesting if not penetrating view of the refugee situation in Australia.

By Kate Herbert

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