Theatre review: The Audition, Bunjil Place

Finely-crafted theatre laying bare the lived experience of refugees and asylum seekers.
Two figures stand on a dark stage, one is wearing a suit jacket and very close to the camera with only the upper body visible. Another stands further back, with curly black hair, black clothing and a solemn expression.

When writing news stories, it is imperative to include first-hand accounts and centre a human voice so as to allow the reader to connect – to feel empathy, rage and discord in varying measures.

And while theatre is vastly different to journalism, Outer Urban Projects does just that in The Audition. This multi-authored theatre piece reminds us of the human cost behind a subject that has long existed in Australian discourse: our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

In this work, the concept of an audition is used to describe the situation faced by those seeking refuge in Australia – to play a part, to be scared, but not to be fearful, to be this, to be that.

Just like news reporting on such stories, The Audition centred people, their grit, their determination and tragedy.

The concept of an audition is introduced in opening scenes written by Patricia Cornelius. The first character audiences encounter is rehearsing for an audition from the seminal Australian play, Summer Of the Seventeenth Doll. ‘How can a new arrival effectively play the character of Olive, the 37-year-old happily employed barmaid who lives with her mother in Carlton?’ the Director asks.

As we dip further into the absurd, the Director becomes the Immigration Officer, and the processes and vast power imbalances of our immigration system are exposed and laid bare. 

It is an interesting trope. However, as the character arcs become more apparent, they also become a little harder to follow. 

It must be said that each of these story lines on their own are powerful, truthful and stoic. This is due to The Audition being inspired by two young Iranian artists, Milad Norouzi and Sahra Davoudi, both of whom were seeking asylum and permanent residency while the work was developed. What emerged at the end of the creative process was a nuanced, topical and emotionally intelligent piece of theatre.

Each of the narratives plays out singularly with moments of dialogue bringing together the individual threads. Director Irine Vela does well in The Audition; the decision to present stripped back, almost austere staging, allows the heart and soul of this work and the individual stories to shine.

As an ensemble, Mary Sitarenos, Sahra Davoudi, Evangelos Arabatzis, Milad Norouzi, Vahideh Eisaei and Arman Habibi are all exemplary.

Read: Theatre review: Blackout Songs, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

The front of the stage is covered in a thin stretch of red dirt – emotively used to transport the work to the confines of detention centres. The incorporation of live music on both guitar and santur is engrossing. The lighting, for the most part, is considered and effective, though some transitions on the night this reviewer attended momentarily faltered and broke some of the magic spun by this fine ensemble. 

With the buzz of a major arts festival taking over the heart of Melbourne, seeing The Audition at Bunjil Place in Narre Warren in the outer suburbs stood as a reminder of the rich tapestry of stories that exist across this populous Australian city.

The Audition is a fine and beautifully crafted piece of theatre.

The Audition by Outer Urban Projects
Director and Concept: Irine Vela
Writers: Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Milad Norouzi, Patricia Cornelius, Sahra Davoudi, Tes Lyssiotis and Wahibe Moussa
Cast: Evangelos Arabatzis, Mary Sitarenos, Milad Norouzi, and Sahra Davoudi
Musician: Vahideh Eisaei and Arman Habibi
Dramaturgs: Maryanne Lynch and Irine Vela
Associate Director: Tariro Mavondo 
Lighting Designer: Gina Gascoigne
Designer: Adrienne Chisholm

The Audition was performed on 6 June 2014 at Bunjil Place, Narre Warren and will tour to Bowery Theatre on 21 June; tickets.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.