Screwdrivers. Broken glass. Nights in hospital. Parents begging their children to return home. Those have become familiar images after the waves of attacks on Indian students in the supposedly most liveable city in the world. And the uncensored story (with artistic licence) is told by the Melbourne Writers Theatre in their latest production: Yet to Ascertain the Nature of the Crime.
Australia and its iconic symbols are the staple features of this stylistically simple play. A white picket fence, artificial green grass, a bbq (of course) and a portable couch are framed by three circles of projections to provide text and visuals as the play progresses. The writing by Roanna Gonsalves supported by the talents of Raimondo Cortese and Damien Millar are taken to the next provocative stage under the direction of Görkem Acoroğlu .
The narrative, which is largely episodic, slowly warmed up to its material weaving in and out of a number of characters with a few re-appearing constant names effectively reminding us of the very different opinions shared regarding this volatile topic: Firstly that Australia is a welcoming country, kind and helpful to their ‘guests’, secondly that many victims of these crimes refuse to comment whether they are ‘racially’ motivated or not and finally that people should know what happens here because ‘everyone has a different fate’.
The three actors performed with versatility and brilliance a range of characters whom they portrayed with an excellent command of accent and diction for the majority of the examples. Andreas Litras and Greg Ulfan in particular gave resounding performances as Taxi drivers Gordon and Pami while Georgina Naidu also gave a very successful depiction of the tragedy suffered by Sravan.
The singing and dancing were less satisfactory with more than a few occasional wavers and out of sync movements but these were somewhat appeased by the accompany Bollywood visuals. The lighting was clever and the projection certainly added much value to the text. On a few occasions however the text disappeared too quickly and in group scenes it was at times hard to determine who was the original speaker, especially as gender changing was often involved.
Overall however the production forced to the surface some very real concerns that exist in Melbourne today. The casting was interesting and challenged assumptions that ‘ethnic stories’ need only be told by certain ethnicities. But simultaneously I also wonder at the reality of the performing arts industry, surely certain stories need to be told by certain individuals not as a matter of authenticity, but more as a matter of expanding mainstream theatre to include the faces of familiarity of changing demographics that make up the theatre industry?
The final note of the play while positive and tending towards reconciliation was somewhat disappointing: ‘let it go…take it easy’. Let go the pain and the hurt? Yes. But to let go the importance of the message of how sickening these actions are is not an option, certainly not if action is to be made outside the closed doors of a theatre. While the rest of the play is to be commended for making lesser known voices heard and people aware of the labels, stereotypes and twisted information that infiltrates the media; the rather conciliatory ending seeming to undermine the political importance of the message – the last thing anybody needs to do is take a backseat in driving this issue forward – otherwise how else can we expect change?