Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, A Beautiful Life (Sydney: Currency Press, 2010), 102pp
As the only play that I've read in my life so far (apart from Shakespeare at school), I was initially unsure what to make of A Beautiful Life. Plays are, by their nature, economical in setting and reliant on dialogue to drive characterisation and narrative. This made it hard for me to fully engage with it from the start, and it was only by Act Two that I started to appreciate it, as theatrical plays demand a different perspective from the audience than a film or a novel.
I initially feared that the issues raised in A Beautiful Life with regards to terrorism would not play well in the post-9/11 world, but they are dealt with so honestly and intelligently that they are still relevant. As in the Nineties, when the play was written, terrorism remains a misunderstood concept; it is easy to see how, devoid of context, people could perceive Hamid's actions as terroristic or criminalistic. Then, as now, Iran is a brutal regime: Masud's unsentimental retelling of the plight of his sister Maryam on page 32 illustrates this best and is one of the play's more chilling monologues. Most of all, the comparison of Hamid's trials in Australia (in the present) and Iran (told in flashback) also brings to light the limitations of the Western legal systems in an era when issues such as Guantánamo have damaged our claims of superiority and fairness. The juxtaposition of Hamid's two trials, past and present, in the penultimate scene, with both playing out before the audience simultaneously, is illustrative of this point. The little details, such as the Australian judge putting on his wig as a presiding Mullah ties his turban, showing their similarities (at least in matters of ritual), were a nice touch in this respect.
The sympathetic depiction of refugees in a new country, and the prejudice they face from their new hosts, is also one of the play's timeless qualities. Hamid, above all, just wants "to lead my simple life, with my family - that's all I want to do." (pg. 97). This piece of dialogue is spoken during the penultimate scene; it is not clear whether it is past Hamid addressing the mullah or present Hamid addressing the court with this line. The fact that it could be either is instructive. The Australian prosecutor wrongly suggests that immigrants should not "seek revenge", should leave their past and their "national disputes" behind them (pg. 99), as if it were that simple. Futcher and Howard put the spotlight on our Western societies and how we should respond to these immigrants; it is not only for them to try to forget and start anew, but for us to understand. The West is not perfect, but it does strive for fairness and freedom of speech. Amir, Hamid's son, notes after the trial that it is different from Tehran as "At least, here, I know he's going to come home." (pg. 99). The authors aren't afraid from ending on a downer, but Hamid is, like his son, aware that's he's much better off in Australia than he ever was in Iran. "I have knowledge [my] wife is safe. My son leads free life. I can endure one year in an Australian prison, okay? In my head, I practise living beautiful life for when I'm home." (pg. 101). The task for our Western societies is not only to strive to be better, but to succeed in being so, to live up to the standard that we expect. Many immigrants like Hamid often know better than most the value of free societies, as they have endured ones that are not free.