Thursday, April 17, 2008

Innocence is No Defence

So I woke up this morning to find my house without water. No hot, no cold, no nothing except a little in the kettle from last night which at least allowed me to brew up a cup of joe and settle down to nut this one out. I'd paid the bills, there were no leaks to be found, and after I heard a neighbour blast my cat with a hose I knew it wasn't something to do with the local mains.

I took up a position at my desk with a pen and notepad and began jotting down the facts I knew, calling out to my imaginary friend to make up another batch of coffee because we weren't going anywhere until we cracked this case. After writing: "WATER - NONE" I quickly realised that I didn't know any more facts, and did what anyone in my position would do which was to lean back and throw my pen
across the desk in disgust.

Shortly after, I squatted in front of the water meter out front, trying to determine whether there was any flow. This took a good five minutes since it was a gas meter, but once that little detail was cleared up I fast discovered that someone had turned off the nearby water meter at the tap. Who could have done such a thing, I wondered as I restored water and order to my home. What kind of person would commit such an act, I asked myself as I enjoyed a warm shower. Are there really such reckless but relatively petty criminals walking our streets at night, I pondered as the room began to shiver and echoey harp music filled my mind.

And suddenly I was in the midst of a flashback to my teen years. I must b
e 15 or 16, I guess, judging by the hypercolour tees and slapbands people are sporting. I'm outside the Russell St Greater Union cinema, where Kurt Russell is stinking up the screen in Escape from LA and the Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is not doing great business. And I'm being interrogated by a pair of policemen on suspicion of carrying drugs. I'm shocked and amazed, but they tell me I "fit the profile". How a floppy-haired pimply nerd in a tee-shirt and old man pants fits any kind of profile besides "unlikely to find a girlfriend before university", I'll never know. But then I'm just a kid, not a cop, and I don't know police procedure. All I know is that my friend and I had, not two hours ago, left a screening of Escape from LA and walked straight across the cinema foyer into the Hunchback of Notre Dame without buying a ticket. You're looking in the wrong places, constable.

I indulge myself in this lengthy stumble down memory lane in order to demonstrate that I've walked a mile or two in the shoes of a hardened con, and if I hadn't seen the error of my ways I'd probably be Chopper by now (but hopefully still with my ears, of which I'm reasonably proud). And I say all this to warn the water-depriving punk who turned off my taps last night - there's still hope, dude. You can always turn your life around.

Last night I also witnessed some police procedure when I went along to Haneef - the Interrogation at the Carlton Courthouse. It's a two-man play based around the 6000-q
uestion interrogation of the first guy charged under Australia's new anti-terrorism laws, and it's pretty interesting. It's kind of ham-strung by the fact that a real interrogation isn't that action-packed or full of sudden twists, being more inclined towards infuriating bureaucratic circling and repetition and wearing down the suspect over 12 hours of numbing boredom. Not great theatre, then. But the writer and cast do a great job of hurdling that little obstacle by a) cutting it back to a lean 90 minutes or so, and b) adding an extra meta-theatrical level by which the two actors themselves have an antagonistic relationship with each other.

The guy playing the interrogator (Simon King) is sympathetic to his character, believing that he was just doing his job and playing it by the book. Haneef's performer (Adam McConvell) can't understand this, since it's obvious that Haneef was treated unjustly. Moreover, he suggests that King's character is only downplaying the unfairness of it all because he thinks this could never happen to (white, middle-class) him.

You get a good sense of the inherent flaws in the new terrorism act, but the play does an even better job at simply showing how the System simply isn't geared towards individual realities, putting abstract concepts of truth and process ahead of everything else. Haneef fits the profile, so he's already guilty, and all that remains is to find the evidence.

Luckily there are some hilarious bits along the way, and the $8 million gasp near the end is fantastic. It's not "political theatre" and the based-on-a-true-story angle prevents it from really launching into something amazing, but it's worth a look if you're interested in the contemporary Australian social landscape and the changes which have occurred in the past decade.

Mohamed Haneef

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