“The Process” – a new play about asylum-seeker processing

Meredith Doig / 23 August 2015

Among other things, RSA’s President Emeritus Ian Robinson is a philosopher and playwright, and his new play, The Process, is touring Australia. Here’s a review by Ron Cerabona, arts reporter for the Canberra Times:

Ian Robinson has sent invitations to politicians on both sides of politics to his play The Process. Whether any of them will come remains to be seen and, given the subject matter, it’s perhaps unlikely they will, but maybe they should.

The Process is a political satire that sends up the policies of both the Coalition and Labor governments towards asylum seekers and refugees. It follows the path of a Tamil asylum seeker in Australia. Rajoo Mahalingham (Tamil actor Ezekiel Day), who is caught up in the immigration process. He is dubbed both a refugee and a security risk. What will happen to him? There are clues in the titles of each of the acts, which Robinson has dubbed The Comedy, The Farce, The Tragicomedy, The Burlesque and The Tragedy.

He wanted to expose the ideology and the ideas behind the successive governments’ policies by holding them up to scrutiny and ridicule.

“The way I see it, I’ve had a gutful of politicians saying, `You’ve got to be cruel to be kind’. That’s predicated on the idea that the people you are being cruel to will benefit,” he says.

But those suffering don’t seem to gain any final benefit that he can see.

“The first draft was written about 18 months ago, when the Labor Party was still in,” Robinson says. When the government changed, he made changes to the script to reflect this and new directions in policy, although the latter were not what he would have liked.

The play also features commentary from immigration ministers on both sides of politics, Labor’s Gottlieb Shortstraw and the Liberals’ Sly Moribund (both played by Sean Scully), as well as lawyer Hope Sprinsey and psychiatrist Dr Maddison Attar (both played by former Neighbours star Jessica Muschamp).

“It exposes some of the ridiculousness of the policies.”

But it’s the human tragedy that most affects Robinson, especially for the asylum seekers who appear to be stuck indefinitely in detention centres with no knowledge of when, if ever, they might be released.

Day was originally a refugee himself. “He was a real find,” Robinson says.

With seasoned actors Scully and Muschamp also on board, Robinson and his wife, Maggie Millar, directed the play in a season at Melbourne theatre La Mama, where it was enthusiastically received.

“It’s very, very funny – people laugh a lot of the time – but what happens is awful . . . The end is very heartbreaking.”

Robinson, who has acted in and directed plays at La Mama and the Pram Factory, also in Melbourne, says this is the first time he has directed one of his own plays. He prefers not to – “I’m too close to the material” – but having Millar as a second opinion helped, and he encouraged the cast to contribute and to be candid in their feedback, making it a collaborative process.

As well as authoring plays, Robinson’s career has included lecturing in philosophy, writing educational textbooks for children and heading the Rationalist Society of Australia. Canberra seemed an obvious destination for The Process, given its subject matter, he says, and although no politicians came to the La Mama season, he hopes that some, at least, might come in Canberra, especially since immigration is a Commonwealth government matter.

If any of them want to take matters up with him on opening night, they will have their chance. “I’ll be there.”

The play will have a return season in Melbourne in a larger theatre, and be performed in other Victorian locations.

Although Robinson doesn’t regard it as part of his role as a satirist to formulate immigration policy, he believes the process of determining refugee status should be faster and more humane. He hopes The Process will help that to come about.


All the more reason.