The Wharf Theatre
Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Season: 20 – 23 January
It seems today that there are levels of migration and consequent diversity in our global society unlike any we have seen before. A large group of these people, refugees, are forced into this transient state and marginalised to the extent that their story is scarcely heard, and an understanding of their situation and needs is rarely met. So often these silent figures become objects of speculation and unfair stereotyping, a sinister force that can easily pervade the attitude of a young mind, and reinforce the misconceptions of someone older. Here, ATYP steps in with its show, Patrice Balbina’s Chance Encounter with the End of the World, speaking articulately to the hearts and minds of audience members of all ages.
In this show, we are introduced to a family - astoundingly ordinary in their daily quarrels and warm affections. We see this world through Patrice Balbina’s eyes, a ten year old girl, living in a country of an unknown name. This production abounds in relatability, intentionally steering away from pointing fingers at a particular nation or people group. Instead of seeing skin colour or religion, we simply see people we can empathise with. This notion is further championed in the incorporation of international artists in the show’s development and performance, from places including Canada, Portugal, Italy and Australia. Fraser Corfield directs a show that is somehow all-inclusive, and yet also instils a feeling of exclusion for any person at some point – be that through language, cultural, or experiential differences between a cast and audience of varied backgrounds. Through enlisting multilingual speech throughout the work, we as an audience are reminded of the unsettling sensation of being immersed in a situation where you cannot understand your surroundings.
Physical theatre and ensemble work is heavily employed to create multiple settings with no help from set or costume changes. Pictures are painted with clarity and creativity to foster some understanding through all stages of Patrice’s journey. This project has unified some impeccable artists from across the globe, which is such a treat for Sydney audiences. A particularly touching moment is Patrice and her Mother’s separation from her Father, with only two spots afforded for them on the dilapidated boat, in spite of paying for three tickets. Perhaps a separation scene like this is a little cliché, however I think it has become cliché for good reason, as I imagine the last time seeing a loved one in a situation like this would be vastly significant, and distressing. The performances by all the artists are nuanced, warm, and sensitive, taking all due care to tell this story responsibly.
As far as empathy can take us, most people seeing ATYP’s show will likely never truly understand the experience of a refugee. But we must try. For the sake of compassion, and in the pursuit of justice we must try. Corfield’s production invites audiences to experience tiny fractions of a single refugee story, affording us aid in this endeavour.