By Ruth Fingret. Director: Olga Tamara. The Hellenic Art Theatre, Building 36, 146 Addison Rd, Marrickville. May 2 -12, 2024

Reviewed : 5 May, 2024

Photo : Renee Nowytarger

Asylum begins with tension. Three scenes play out simultaneously and Craig, an immigration officer, a husband, and a father, is caught in all of them. Playwright Ruth Fingret places her protagonist in a series of dilemmas, where decision-making and dishonesty juxtapose and diverge in a script that is tight and demanding. Olga Tamara’s direction is just as tight and demanding. She pushes the pace, ensuring the conflict and tension introduced in the first few moments continue through scenarios that are charged with anger, fear, violence, resentment, blackmail, lies, love …

Photo : Renee Nowytarger

Craig faces all of these as he oscillates between a refugee seeking asylum, a bi-polar ex-wife and an embittered son who has been arrested. It’s a tough role, but Chris Miller carries it well, carefully developing the emotional stress that grows with each new confrontation until his tight control is pushed beyond constraint and he gives in to anger, grief, and guilt. Miller allows the emotions to play on his face, but shows how tightly they are controlled in his rigid stance and clenched hands.

Eli Saad plays Hajir, a refugee who is so desperate to gain asylum that he eventually resorts to a lie that affects Craig’s final decision. Saad shows the fear within Hajir in his frightened eyes, and the fervour in his voice as he pleas for understanding and recounts the horrifying abuse he has seen and received. Another performance where tight control is used to show the different dark dimensions of the character.

Photo : Renee Nowytarger

Levi Kenway plays Craig’s Son Jason, brought up in a family dogged by the effect of mental illness and conflict.  Kenway makes Jason taut, fired by an anger that burns in his fixed, staring, resentful eyes and tightly coiled body. He makes him spiteful, bitter, and cruel … and hurt and confused and lonely … in a performance that inspires empathy and understanding.

Dianne Weller plays his sad, ill mother, Vikki. Weller manages to depict the desperation of the mentally ill, especially the sudden mood swings of bi-polar disorder that Fingret has skilfully represented in the script. Weller finds the edginess of Vikki … in the tightrope she walks between control and despair … and in her guilt, anger, self-loathing and desolation.

Emma Burns is Christine, the police officer charged with accusing Jason of threatening behaviour and stealth. Burns makes Christine calm and perceptive, tolerant of Jason’s reticence and anger, but tough enough to keep him under control, compassionate enough to understand the effect of his mother’s volatility.

Photo : Renee Nowytarger

The set, designed by Tamara, allows the over-lapping scenes to merge with astute blocking and clever lighting designed by Mehran Mortezaei. A lamp that flickers on in Craig’s living room. A shadowy light when Craig questions Hajir. A starker spot that highlights Jason’s fear in the police station. The final scene, with Craig’s face lit – and Hajir and Jason in ghostly blue behind him accentuates the finality of Craig’s decision.

Fingret tells this story in clear, economic writing. Tamara and the cast match this with tight direction and deftly developed characters.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine