Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Jan 23, 2016
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Raul Atalaia, Holly Fraser, Emilie Leclerc, Giuditta Mingucci, Yves Simard
Image by Ben Pugh
Patrice Balbina is a 10-year-old asylum seeker. The character might be fictional, but what she goes through is representative of the experiences that millions have shared. It is a familiar story of struggle, but told from the other side of the fence. The work is devised by artists from Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the UK, countries that offer refuge, and where debates about our responsibilities as citizens of the world rage on. Much of our pervasive news media is concerned with how willing or ready we are as developed nations to receive immigrants, with minimal consideration for the reality of life experienced by those waiting to be granted asylum.
What the collective has created here is an earnest portrayal of the plight of those who had fallen victim to unjust and illegal persecution. Patrice’s family leaves their home to escape violent threats, finding themselves in the mercy of people smugglers, a small boat and the ocean. The story never gets complicated, but it does not delve very deep into its potent themes either. Its scenes are beautifully choreographed and energetically performed, but it brings little fresh information to an admittedly tired topic. For a subject matter that is in our attention day after day, and had been for at least 15 years (since 9-11), we wish for the play to provide fresh perspectives for our jaded minds, or maybe emotional resonance for our callused hearts. Patrice’s story feels like a polite and sanitised iteration of what many of us have often imagined to be much more dramatic and harrowing.
From our privileged first world positions, we hear of murders in foreign lands, deaths in the sea, and fatalities in camps. It takes pictures of toddlers washed ashore to move us to action. Tales about other people’s catastrophes have to be desperately brutal before we even begin to lift a finger, so we have to wonder if political discussions in the theatre about the global refugee crisis can ever take a gentle approach. There are no black or white, easy answers to the state of affairs. Even in the realm of make-believe, finding a way to get to a solution is fraught with uncertainty.