Theatre of Justice? Tribunal by PYT


Tribunal is presided over by Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grosvenor – a Darug/Yuin elder and the daughter of late Aboriginal activist Dr. Charles Chika Dixon – creating a real-time tribunal which hears stories of Iraqi/Afghani refugees that have come through the off-shore processing system, as well as conveying the experiences of the human rights lawyers and refugee advocates that seek to help them. Juxtaposing first-person narratives, phone calls, immigration interviews, and photos from the Nauru detention facility, the work presents an array of interwoven humanitarian and systemic failures and inconsistencies that have culminated in ‘Guantanamo’-like conditions for those unfortunate few that have sought asylum in Australia.

The work has been developed and performed by PYT (Powerhouse Youth Theatre) under the direction of Karen Therese, bringing together performers, human rights lawyers, refugee advocates, asylum-seekers and refugees, and Aboriginal elders. The ambition of this action, and its long-term potential in Australian theatre is an exciting prospect.

Avoiding the hyperbole of the mainstream media, Tribunal has sought to tell these true stories with integrity and authenticity, touching upon more traumatic events with a respectful restraint, rather than indulging in shock and outrage, whilst sourcing and verifying each story and fact presented across its duration. In many ways, the work acts as a living newsreel in an era where the public has developed a survivalist-sense of dissonance around the increasing atrocities being reported.

A distinguishing feature of the work is its reference to the parallels between the Australian Government’s current treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and the historical treatment of Aboriginal’s in Australia. As Aunty Rhonda recounts the plights of her father and his generation of social activists, and reflects upon the political rhetoric that continues to perpetuate discriminatory and exclusionary tactics towards Aboriginal people, the audience is introduced to an otherwise hidden but definite trajectory in Australian politics and the persistent narratives of colonialist discourse. It is these rich resources of historical, factual and personal narratives that bring a sense of meaning and weight to the performance of Tribunal.  

At times, there is a meandering dialogue and seemingly abrupt shift in tone, suggesting that further consolidation of the work is necessary in order for it to reach its greatest potential with a mainstream audience.

Nevertheless, many that had crowded the foyer at Arts House that night were no doubt there to hear stories that were true, and not just well-performed tales. In that sense, the use of theatre as a medium of urgent social and political discourse, as driven by the community and for the community, is what is most exciting about works such as Tribunal. This is particularly so where those spaces are not otherwise presently available in civil society.

There are shows that aim to provide immaculate and refined theatre performance, and those that seek to present what needs to be presented, driven more by urgency than perfection. Tribunal is a show that most honourably falls into the latter, pushing forth on the difficult quest of using community-based art as a medium for societal awareness and change.

Tribunal is part of a larger line-up of works at the Arts House focusing on place and belonging. The full program is available on the Arts House website.

3/5 stars


Concept & Lead Artist:
Karen Therese
Concept & Human Rights Lawyer:
Joe Tan
Creative Collaborators/ Text/Performers:
Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, Mahdi Mohammadi, Karen Therese, Paul Dwyer, Katie Green, Jawad Yaqoubi plus guest speakers
Text Editor:
Paul Dwyer

Outside Eye:
Chris Ryan
Province Studio (Laura Pike and Anne Louise Dadek)
Video Design:
Sean Bacon
Sound Design:
James Brown
Lighting Design:
Emma Lockhart-Wilson
Stage Manager:
Patrick Howard




Nithya Iyer

Author: Nithya Iyer

Nithya Iyer is a Melbourne-based writer and performer of Indian-descent. Her work regards experimental and experiential arts practices in self-inquiry and connection to the Other. She has performed in experimental, roving and choreographed works in festivals and events across Victoria and New South Wales. Nithya has a background in Bharatanatayam from the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy and is currently studying a Masters of Therapeutic Arts Practice at the Melbourne Institute of Experiential and Creative Art Therapy.