The Politics of Innocence in Contemporary Theatre about Refugees

  • Emma Cox


This chapter examines two theatrical productions about refugees, both produced in Australia, where since 2001 theatre-makers have responded persistently and passionately to the nation’s extraordinary asylum and immigration policies. The cornerstone of these policies, the mandatory, indefinite imprisonment of all unauthorized or ‘illegal’ asylum seekers, sets up the context for the chapter’s probing of a ‘politics of innocence’. The discussion identifies the way extrajudicially detained non-citizens activate neither a legal presumption of innocence (in that they are not charged with a crime) nor a civic pre-emptive presumption of non-innocence (in that they do not participate in civic life). This exceptional situation, it is argued, determines and delimits to a significant extent the moral tone of theatre-making in Australia engaged with refugees.


Refugees Asylum seekers Innocence Law Illegality Belief Theatre 


  1. Agamben, Giorgio (2000) Means Without End: Notes on Politics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press).Google Scholar
  2. Agamben, Giorgio (2005) State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).Google Scholar
  3. Arendt, Hannah (1958 [1951]) The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books).Google Scholar
  4. Botham, Paola (2009) ‘Witnesses in the Public Sphere: Bloody Sunday and the Redefinition of Political Theatre’, in Susan C. Haedicke, Deirdre Heddon, Avraham Oz and E. J. Westlake (eds) Political Performances: Theory and Practice (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi), pp. 35–53.Google Scholar
  5. Brion, Denis J. (2014) ‘The Criminal Trial as Theater: The Semiotic Power of the Image’, Law, Culture and Visual Studies: 329–59.Google Scholar
  6. ‘Brutal Look at Reality’ (2005) Canberra Times, 31 March, p. 9.Google Scholar
  7. Cavanagh, Greg (2010) Inquest into the Death of Mohammed Hassan Ayubi, Muzafar Ali Sefarali, Mohammed Amen Zamen, Awar Nadar, Baquer Husani, Darwin Coroner’s Court, 17 March,
  8. Clark, Chelsea (2004) ‘Numbers, Not Names: Play Tells the Story of Detainees’, prev. of Through the Wire by Ros Horin, Daily Telegraph, 23 January, p. 18.Google Scholar
  9. Cox, Emma (2008) Interview with Shahin Shafaei. Melbourne, 19 July. Unpublished.Google Scholar
  10. Cox, Emma (2012) ‘Victimhood, Hope and the Refugee Narrative: Affective Dialectics in Magnet Theatre’s Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking’, Theatre Research International 37(2): 118–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cox, Emma (2014) Theatre and Migration (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farrier, David (2011) Postcolonial Asylum: Seeking Sanctuary Before the Law (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fletcher, Jay (2009) ‘Theatrical Mockery of Refugees’, Green Left Weekly, 10 October,
  14. Galetta, Antonella (2013) ‘The Changing Nature of the Presumption of Innocence in Today’s Surveillance Societies: Rewrite Human Rights or Regulate the Use of Surveillance Technologies?’, European Journal of Law and Technology 4(2): Scholar
  15. Gibney, Matthew J. (2004) The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gilbert, Helen and Jacqueline Lo (2007) Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-cultural Transactions in Australasia (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).Google Scholar
  17. Gill, Harbant (2005) ‘Wired for Sound’, Rev. of Through the Wire by Ros Horin, Herald-Sun, 2 May, p. 100.Google Scholar
  18. Goodman, James (2009) ‘Refugee Solidarity: Between National Shame and Global Outrage’, in Debra Hopkins, Jochen Kleres, Helena Flam and Helmut Kuzmics (eds) Theorizing Emotions: Sociological Explorations and Applications (Frankfurt and New York: Campus Verlag), pp. 269–89.Google Scholar
  19. Hage, Ghassan (2002) ‘The Differential Intensities of Social Reality: Migration, Participation and Guilt’, in Ghassan Hage (ed.) Arab-Australians Today: Citizenship and Belonging (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press), 192–205.Google Scholar
  20. Horin, Ros (2004) Through the Wire, dir. Ros Horin, Sydney Opera House studio, 14–23 October 2004; regional tour March–May 2005.Google Scholar
  21. Humphries, Glen (2005) ‘Inspiration from the Inside’, rev. of Through the Wire by Ros Horin, Illawarra Mercury, 31 March, p. 38.Google Scholar
  22. Information Pack (2006) Through the Wire (Redfern, New South Wales: Performing Lines).Google Scholar
  23. Jeffers, Alison (2012) Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Journey of Asylum – Waiting (2010) dir. Catherine Simmonds, 16–21 March, Bella Union Theatre, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  25. Journey of Asylum – Waiting (2010) programme note, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.Google Scholar
  26. Krauth, Kirsten (2005) ‘Refugees: Between Reality and Performance’, RealTime 67: 28.Google Scholar
  27. Longworth, Ken (2005) ‘Inside Story on Detainees’, prev. of Through the Wire by Ros Horin, Newcastle Herald, 11 April, p. 50.Google Scholar
  28. Marr, David and Marian Wilkinson (2003) Dark Victory (Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin).Google Scholar
  29. Migrant Smugglers: Profiles and Prosecutions, University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law,
  30. Monks, Aoife (2013) ‘“This Painful Chapter”: Performing the Law in Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry’, Contemporary Theatre Review 23(3): 345–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morgan, Joyce (2004) ‘Acting to Fathom the Truth’, rev. of Through the Wire by Ros Horin, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 January, p. 14.Google Scholar
  32. Neumann, Klaus and Gwenda Tavan (eds) (2009) Does History Matter? Making and Debating Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Policy in Australia and New Zealand (Canberra: ANU E Press).Google Scholar
  33. Peters, Julie Stone (2008) ‘Legal Performance Good and Bad’, Law, Culture and the Humanities 4(2): 179–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schloenhardt, Andreas and Hadley Hickson (2013) ‘Non-Criminalization of Smuggled Migrants: Rights, Obligations, and Australian Practice under Article 5 of the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air’, International Journal of Refugee Law 25(1): 39–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Simmonds, Catherine, with asylum seekers and refugees from the ASRC (2013) Journey of Asylum Waiting, in Emma Cox (ed.) Staging Asylum: Contemporary Australian Plays about Refugees (Sydney: Currency Press), 135–84.Google Scholar
  36. Simmonds, Diana (2004) ‘Arts’, Sunday Telegraph, 10 October, p. 124.Google Scholar
  37. Through the Wire (2006) Information Pack, Redfern, New South Wales: Performing Lines, January.Google Scholar
  38. Wake, Caroline (2013) ‘To Witness Mimesis: The Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics of Testimonial Theatre in Through the Wire’, Modern Drama 56(1): 102–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wake, Caroline (2014) ‘The Politics and Poetics of Listening: Attending Headphone Verbatim Theatre in Post-Cronulla Australia’, Theatre Research International 39(2): 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Woolley, Agnes (2014) Contemporary Asylum Narratives: Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Cox
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Drama and TheatreRoyal Holloway University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations