Seeking Djira 2003

Review by Bill Peret  

Linda Jaivin’s brand of comedy, until now most notably on show in her popular novels, could fairly be described as broad.  Sex is generally on the menu, although she has also made a foray into the political in The Monkey and the Dragon. Seeking Djira, her first full length play, sets a contemporary political issue; the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia; loose among a an enclosed group of writers whose sexual and other tensions are at least as important as their political opinions.

Nabil (Adam McConvell), an escapee from the Villawood Detention Centre, stumbles, in a rather unlikely manner, into a writers’ retreat in the Blue Mountains.  There are an ensconced Vincent (Paul Dawber), an under-appreciated poet and ageing roué, his ex, Alison (Amanda Sandwith), who has written a popular novel; and Kennedy (Sophie Lampel), a young and rather earthly playwright.  A fifth writer, Lily (Katrina Baylis), whose identity will stretch the least elastic credibility, later joins them.

No one is ever going to accuse Jaivin of subtlety, either in characterization or plot.  Vincent leaves us in no doubt of his primary motivations; he is either leering suggestively at the females or offering anyone who will listen to a reading of his poetry.  Alison insists, neurotically and non stop, on abiding by “the rules”; and Kennedy has a fine disdain for the human failings of her elders.  Nabil, meanwhile, is charming, warm and intelligent.

There is no doubt where this play’s emotional and political heart lies, and it will please those who do not approve of the current government’s policy.  Subtlety isn’t really the point; Jaivin’s humour means to be slapstick, and in Nabil she intends to put a humanized face on what she sees as the shadowy and anonymous figures of detainees.  The Djira of the title refers to an Arabic concept of the obligation to look after neighbours.

The cast makes agood fist of Jaivin’s script, and there are plenty of comic moments and good gags.  One of her strong suits is an intimate knowledge of the shameless self-obsession of professed writers; who would know better?  Direction by David Myles keeps things moving very appealingly, and renders the political pill easy to swallow.