The Sydney Theater Co.’s Blueprints program, dedicated to fostering emerging writers and directors, has had mixed creative success in its three years. “These People” falls somewhere in the middle — it’s neither a hit nor a disaster.
Award-winning scribe Ben Ellis chose to explore the wonderfully contentious issue of asylum seekers in Australia, using four actors slipping in and out of numerous characters.
Since 2001 boatloads of people have been incarcerated in inhospitable and remote (sometimes desert) locations, while the Australian government has waded through their asylum applications. The process has often stretched over years, and applications by people from war zones were not even considered while their home remained war-torn.
As news of attempted suicides and self-mutilation by adults and children seeped from the holding pens, debate about the humanity of the process raged among the Australian population.
Ellis captures some of this mood with his regular family of four who morph into other characters: a freedom campaigner, another asylum seeker, a counselor. But his heavy use of disjointed monologues and third-person narration, though useful in conveying mood, is a lazy way of tackling tricky topics and lends itself to overwriting.
“These People” often feels more like a dramatization of a text than a play penned for the stage. That said, the loose structure enabled the welcome inclusion of recent developments.
Ellis’ provocative juxtaposition of asylum seekers with cuddly penguins who flocked en masse to Australian following an oil spill in Antarctica is interesting, but like much of the play, it was insufficiently developed. Relative newcomer Bojana Novakovic is a good find, well used. John Gregg, as the father, is underused.