Contemporary Australian Theatre Deconstruction; a Beautiful Life by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard

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A Beautiful Life
A Beautiful Life written by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard in 1998 is a brave piece of contemporary Australian Theatre, exploring the controversial and much debated issue of immigration in Australia, while providing a highly symbolic, poignant and emotional experience for the audience. This play is based on the memories of an Iranian refugee (Hamid), his wife (Jhila) and their son (Amir) who settled in Australia in the 1980s, focusing on how their cultural background ultimately leads to their persecution by the Australian Government. As this play is told from their perspective, the audience is encouraged to empathise with the plight of refugees in Australia. Through the use of many interesting theatrical techniques, such as symbolism, breaking the fourth wall, flashbacks, etc, the play sheds light on the issues of the Australian Government and legal system, prejudices towards refugees in Australia and the migrant experience in Australia. One of the major thematic concerns in A Beautiful Life is the issue of the Australian Government and legal system in relation to the matter of refugees in Australia. Hamid and Jhila are being persecuted by the Australian Government and legal system due to their actions in a protest at the Iranian embassy in Australia. Through the use of flashbacks the audience is shown the horrible torture Hamid endured under the Iranian regime in Tehran, the stage directions in Act One, Scene 15 state “AHMAD stuffs the jacket into HAMID’s mouth, ties it behind his head, and pulls at the jacket to lift up his head further, while the INTERROGATOR produces a baton”. As a result of this, the audience becomes sympathetic towards Hamid and therefore does not understand why the Australian Government is “trying to make an example of you [Hamid and Jhila]” (Act One, Scene 17). Through acting this play out in class I became very disillusioned with the Australian Government, as the characterisation of Hamid and Jhila being two honest, good people is so strong. “What? So I cannot say to Judge – I am guilty of spraying paint, I am guilty of breaking office – I am sorry, please punish me, and I am absolved.” (Act One, Scene 17). Hamid’s fight for honesty and the truth appeals to Australian audiences as we pride ourselves on being honest and hard workers. Acting this out in class I also came to realise that the court case was less about Hamid and Jhila and more about the Australian Government trying to maintain credibility. Stylised movement and symbolism is utilised by the playwrights in order to convey to the audience the vulture-like nature of the media when it comes to reporting on matters to do with the legal system in relation to migrants in Australia. “Two JOURNALISTS move around HAMID like sharks. JOURNALIST ONE shines a hand-held light in HAMID’s face.” (Act One, Scene 4). It is the stylised movement in this stage direction which engages the audience; the use of symbolism conveys the deeper meaning. The term ‘sharks’ and the use of the hand-held light are all reminiscent of interrogation scenes, exposing again the injustice of the Australian Government and legal system. Acting this out in class was quite difficult to do but when done correctly is a very effective theatrical technique. The fast paced circling by the journalists created tension and suspense, making the audience sympathise with the struggling Hamid in the middle of them. Through the use of a split scene in Act Two, Scene 12, the playwrights are able to draw parallels between the Iranian Government and the Australian Government. In an Australian context, there are connotations of ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ with the Iranian Government, and by drawing out similarities between the two systems, the playwrights effectively communicate to the audience the flaws of the Australian Government and legal system. In my own experience, this scene is extremely difficult but also extremely effective, the split scene with Hamid being the commonality...
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