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52 Weeks of #SydCulture: Week 11

Written by Kali Reid

Welcome to the tenth guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! This month is a bit special: the lady who inspired this campaign, Kali Reid, is culture-selecting for us. Every Tuesday of March, Kali will be telling us what she loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to her. 

On Friday night I went to see Tribunal at PYT in Fairfield. The show premiered at Griffin Theatre Company’s Stables Theatre last August while I was away. I’d heard plenty of good things about it and was pleased to get the chance to see it – particularly in Fairfield, where pre-show dinner at Aldhiaffah Al-Iraqi included the most delicious naan.

Tribunal is framed as a people’s court, putting the government’s response to refugees on trial. As with many people, I confess I find it increasingly difficult to engage with the refugee debate in Australia. It’s exhausting. We know the treatment of boat arrivals in offshore camps is outrageous, inhumane, shameful. We know it’s happening on our watch. But any action feels completely hopeless, and in spite of all the things good people have done to try and effect positive change over the past 15+ years, outcomes for asylum seekers only ever seem to get worse.

Even within this context – or perhaps especially because of it – Tribunal is well worth a look.

Mahdi Mohammadi (front) in Tribunal
Photograph: Alex Wisser

One of the strengths of the work is that we are guided into and through it by Aunty Rhonda Dixon Grovenor, presiding over the Tribunal in a regal possum skin cloak. Aunty Rhonda is arresting. The audience stand to attention for her welcome, and in doing so we are transported to a parallel possibility of what Australia could be. Under her authority we are granted access into the life of Mahdi Mohammadi, an exuberant young Afghani refugee whose calling is to be a feminist theatre maker. (Gush).

Around him, performers submit evidence to Aunty Rhonda’s Tribunal. These include a re-enactment of the department of immigration’s interrogation tactics, a recitation of the degrading rules to which refugees must submit in coming to Australia, and personal stories of Madhi and his friend Jawad and their intensely traumatic journeys to arrive in Sydney.

PYT artistic director Karen Therese (centre) with Mahdi Mohammadi
Photograph: Alex Wisser

The space to listen, and really hear, the often forgotten personal stories and complex traumas endured by both refugees and also Aboriginal Australians, is insightful and generous.

And the work as a whole gets me thinking about Australia’s perverse love/hate relationship with authority, regulations and order. For a land of larrikins, we sure as hell love a strong rule.

Tribunal has stayed with me over the weekend. Somehow, Madhi’s spirit has not been crushed by the traumatic experience he’s endured to be here. His story gives me determination not to let the toxic debate around refugees crush me into submission.

Tribunal ran from March 2-11 at Powerhouse Youth Theatre in Fairfield; its next performances are Jun 3 & 4 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (details TBA).

Read more about our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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