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BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.

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ALEX BUZO'S NORM AND AHMED

BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.

Tuesday 16th November 2021, 7:30pm, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres Parramatta

Aarne Neeme's new staging of Alex Buzo's NORM AND AHMED reinforces society really hasn't progressed much in removing racial prejudice from society. The work that premiered in 1968 in the wake of the end of the White Australia Policy sadly retains a relevance in 21st century even though 29.8% of the Australian population in 2020 were born overseas.

BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.
Rajan Velu as Ahmed and Laurence Coy as Norm (Photo: Becky Matthews)

The premise of the work is that Ahmed (Rajan Velu) a young Pakistani university student that has missed his bus home after a late shift at work is 'cornered' into a conversation with the elderly, seemingly lonely Vietnam veteran of Irish descent, Norm (Laurence Coy). Ahmed's caution towards the loud, brash and boorish stranger is relatable to anyone that has had to wait for a bus or a train in the middle of the night, and even more relatable for anyone who isn't white. While it could be considered a form of racial profiling, there is an almost automatic self-preserving wariness that the white man wearing an Australian flag t-shirt may want to pick a fight with someone that doesn't conform to his notion of what Australians should look like even before one considers whether the person may be under the influence. The 45 minutes the men talk at the bus stop confirms that Ahmed was right to be wary, as Norm vacillates between appearing to be welcoming and only wanting someone to talk to and rocketing into rages and rants and then back to trying to talk Ahmed into giving up his plans of returning to Pakistan after his studies and making a life in Australia. Norm is a man of contradictions which Ahmed navigates with an incredible degree of diplomacy, potentially gained from his formal education and life experience of earlier encounters with people like Norm. While some of Norm's behavior may be dismissed by the generous as related to PTSD, there is an inherent xenophobia that has existed within him since before his deployment and his lack of recognition that he is racist serves as a striking difference to Ahmed's apologies if his cautionary stereotyping has led to behaviors that could cause insult or offence.

BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.
Laurence Coy as Norm (Photo: Becky Matthews)

The isolation of the bus stop, away from any regular passing traffic or pedestrians that could have afforded Ahmed some degree of comfort that he was not alone with Norm is reinforced by Deidre Burgess' production design that places the bus stop in front of a CBD construction site that feels separated from the areas of the city that are regularly maintained. Graffitied wire fencing has litter caught in the lower supports and the lights of the city office towers illuminates the distance via a broad projection. A single streetlamp casts light on the bench and bin and discarded cigarettes, many of which are probably Norm's, litter the sidewalk. Norm's working class rough and ready persona is reinforced by his patriotic t-shirt, well-worn jeans and sneakers while Ahmed is neat and tidy in his traditional Kurta top over jeans, leather shoes and traditional cap.

Rajan Velu's portrayal of Ahmed encapsulates the resilience against prejudice that many non-whites learn to use in the face of people that want to challenge their presence in Australia, even though those firing the abuse are most often descendants of people that were also newcomers to the country. Velu conveys that Ahmed is focused on a peaceful time in Australia, focusing on his studies and his work so he can take his knowledge and qualifications back to Pakistan to help his community while taking the opportunity of his interaction with Norm to learn more about different aspects of humanity.

BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.
Rajan Velu as Ahmed (Photo: Becky Matthews)

As Norm, Laurence Coy retains an underlying menace with subtle expressions that remind the audience that even though Norm is saying all the right things about welcoming the newcomer to Australia, he hasn't quite convinced himself that he fully accepts Ahmed and non-whites like him. He has the ability to lull some people into a false sense of security that Norm is alright and just a bit brash and bad with his words so for a moment the audience may feel sympathy for the old man but the slip of comments or gestures that are so natural that Norm doesn't realize he's doing them serve as warning flags.

BWW REVIEW: Half A Century Later, ALEX BUZO's NORM AND AHMED Remains Sadly Relevant As Racial Prejudice Remains Despite The Progress Society Has Managed.
Rajan Velu as Ahmed and Laurence Coy as Norm (Photo: Becky Matthews)

Aarne Neeme's production is captivating as the Coy and Velu keep the audience guessing as to how the late night interaction will play out. Will it justify the cynical viewer's assumption or will it give some hope for humanity? This new production of NORM AND AHMED is well worth seeing in the context of the 21st century.

https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/alex-buzos-norm-ahmed/


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