Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 20 – 29, 2015
Playwright: Fleur Beaupert
Director: Fleur Beaupert
Cast: Paul Armstrong, Lara Lightfoot, Abi Rayment, Robert Rhode, Melissa Kathryn Rose, Eleni Schumacher, Barton Williams
Image by Phyllis Wong
Stories about the underdog hold a tenacious appeal. Fleur Beaupert’s Dead Time is based on the events surrounding Dr Mohamed Haneef’s arrest and subsequent release in 2007, at a time when the Australian government was placing threats of terrorism front and centre in the national consciousness. The post-9/11 era has allowed public life (including politics and media) to encroach upon individual liberties in the name of vigilance, and our collective paranoia is used to justify racist persecutions in place of sound legal processes. The script is partly verbatim, and it makes a conscious effort to depict events with accuracy. Consequently, moments of heightened drama are few, even though tension is effectively manufactured with relative consistency. Haneef’s ordeal is rightly portrayed as institutionalised exploitation, and the play’s purpose is to give voice to the oppressed. In the case of contemporary Australia, people of the Muslim faith are especially relevant to this discussion. Beaupert’s work as writer and director is not always elegant, but what she has created, is a compelling and stirring statement against our gradually increasing acceptance of injustice in the name of national security. It is a touchy subject, and the show elicits our emotional involvement effortlessly, and for many, its protestations are representative of how we feel about the world today, and the passion on display is reflective of our attitudes about the themes at hand.
Performances are uneven, but leading man Robert Rhode is entirely captivating. The actor’s presence and instincts are a real pleasure to witness, and his easy confidence allows us to empathise with his character at every point of his journey. His interpretation of innocence is authentic, and he builds just enough complexity into Haneef’s victimisation so that we identify intimately with his predicament and his fears. The production is a showcase for Rhode’s talent, which seems scarcely trained, but in its rawness, we observe a natural flair that emanates, and recognise in it, a fragility that makes the cruel mistreatment suffered by Haneef all the more upsetting.
Dead Time is not a polished work, but the clarity and importance of its message makes it a standout in a landscape of bourgeois concerns that characterises our lucky country. The land of the fair go has become delusional in its self identity, refusing to come to grips with its evolution into a Western power that has little capacity for compassion. We insist on seeing ourselves as earthy, sincere and wholesome. We think us better than our corrupt siblings of United States and Europe, but in fact our dealings in regional issues are shameful. Our eagerness to vilify, intimidate and abuse those in need is an extension of the way we have maltreated Aboriginal communities since 1788. Australia’s European history refuses to learn from its own mistakes, and we are now in the middle of a new cycle of violence that is heading towards a repeat performance of its very worst.