A Dead Issue: Review of Lace Balloon’s Dead Time

by theatrebloggers

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On the 2nd of July 2007 Gold Coast Doctor, Muhamed Haneef, was arrested on suspicion of terrorist association over the recent Glasgow airport attacks. He was held in custody without charge for 26 days under the Australian government’s newly created anti-terrorism legislation, which stated that any person could be held without charge as long as there was reasonable cause. This period came to be known as Dead Time. It was later found that Haneef had been wrongly held and was innocent of any terror association. Despite this, his visa was cancelled and he was forced to leave the country. His case raises many interesting questions about the nature of our legal system and how much liberty we are willing to give up in the name of national security.

Theatre company, Lace Balloon, and director Fleur Beaupert, set themselves a bold challenge. In the program of Dead Time several questions are asked:

How do we protect national security? And at what cost to our freedom? Who are we letting lead the conversation about race, religion and national identity? And how are we keeping them to account? What can happen, and who will step up, when the time between arrest and charge is potentially unlimited?

Dead Time is a combination of verbatim and group devised theatre. Long time followers of this blog will know that we are rarely impressed by this style of theatre, and unfortunately Dead Time is not the exception. For verbatim theatre to be successful a great deal of textual manipulation needs to take place, but this does not appear to have occurred. On top of which, many of the group devised elements of the piece had a distinct HSC drama flavour to them. But the real question is whether Dead Time successfully grapples with the issues it set out to engage with. And it doesn’t really. The play is a basic re-telling of events, and unfortunately a re-telling doesn’t necessarily illuminated issues. The fact that we never see Haneef’s lawyer, Peter Russo, do any substantial lawyering is maybe revealing of this fact. For the play’s limitations, though, the cast still put in a good showing.

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As an ensemble, the cast was slightly lacklustre; the issue appeared to be a feeling of disconnectedness that sat amongst the actors. Individually, performances varied. Abi Rayment was well cast as the Government (ranging from John Howard to Phillip Ruddock). Aided in part by the script, Rayment provided a solid ‘party’ voice as she transitioned between a state of fiercely unapologetic and desperately defensive. This was (ironically) one of the stronger characterisations of the evening. Paul Armstrong was equally pleasing in the role of Dr Haneef’s lawyer Peter Russo, capturing that deep sense of injustice imbued within the Australian character. Eleni Schumacher and Lara Lightfoot played media personnel Sandra and Gabrielle respectively. Both struggled to make an impression as they had very little dramatic work to do within the script. Lightfoot did, however, demonstrate some good vocal technique when playing the various newsreaders. As Barton Williams of the AFP, Adam Simms was quite convincing. He possessed a natural yet relaxed air of authority with a deep timbre to match. In this respect, Melissa Kathryn Rose struggled to match Simms as Barton’s partner Marilyn Thompson. One can see how their dynamics might have worked, but it just failed to find an appropriate rhythm. Finally, Robert Rhode was a nice choice for Dr Mohamed Haneef; Rhode was measured in performance and his natural aura instantly won us over.

Dead Time is rather unfortunate, because Haneef’s case is inherently interesting and could potentially tell us a lot about our legal system and where we place value as a society. Lace Balloon certainly had good intentions in bringing this story to stage, but it draws few conclusions. A more developed script that focused on Haneef’s or Russo’s character journey may have been a better way to go.

Dead Time is playing at 107 Projects until the 29th of May.  For more information see: https://laceballoon.wordpress.com/

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