Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola

“We made the revolution, not Mao”

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie is based on more than a decade of Anders Lustgarten’s intensive studies into China and it shows. The play is undoubtedly well-constructed and shines a light on an area that is persistently underexplored by British theatre but with so much information and insight at his fingertips, the playwright doesn’t resist the temptation to share as much of it as he can and it makes for a slightly frustrating experience.

So we get a thorough examination of modern Chinese history through the prism of a small village from Rotten Peach. There, the rise of Chairman Mao and the founding of the People’s Republic utterly transforms the landscape in 10 brutal years but we only get a certain amount of a dramatic rendering of how this upheaval affects the social fabric of the lives of the villagers, too much time is taken up with exposition and explanation, political theory by stealth and thus lacking in theatrical thrill. Continue reading “Review: The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola”

Downloadable dramas – Lampedusa and Elegy

“We live with unspeakable losses, and most of us move on”

A bit of a treat for you, with audio adaptations of two recent hard-hitting plays available to download.

Marking Refugee Week and the end of a four year journey for this play, Douglas Rintoul’s Elegy can be downloaded both high and lower quality from this very webpage and there’s a digital programme and the text available for you as well to make a comprehensive little package. This Transport Theatre production is a devastating piece of documentary theatre, charting the horrendous experiences of gay Iraqi refugees as they were forced to flee their homeland. I saw it back in 2012 and it has stayed with me ever since, I definitely recommend giving this a listen. 

And as something of an accidental companion piece, Lampedusa blew me away at the Soho Theatre back in April this year, hitting a shocking vein of synchronicity as news of boatloads of refugees dying in the Mediterranean suddenly dominated the front pages. HighTide’s production of Anders Lustgarten’s play will be returning to the Soho at the end of the month but you can listen to an adaptation of it now on the Guardian website or download it as an mp3 and partake of it at your leisure. Again, it is often brutal but remains a powerful piece of theatre that speaks so much to our current time.

Photo: Jonny Birch

Review: Lampedusa, Soho Theatre

“Blaming ‘fucking migrants’ for every single thing we don’t like about ourselves”

There’s something rather ingenious about Lucy Osborne’s design for Anders Lustgarten’s new play Lampedusa. It’s the type of set that invites descriptors like ‘bare’ and ‘minimal’ (cf the Guardian’s reduction of Jan Versweyveld’s Olivier-nominated work to “there is no set”) when you walk into the upstairs space at the Soho Theatre, there appears to be nothing but circular, backless benches on which we must gather around. But even the act of taking a seat becomes charged with something more as the collective gaze of the audience is turned in on each other, even before the play has started.

That’s the point that Steven Atkinson’s production skilfully but pointedly makes, and that Osborne’s design in all its ostensible simplicity never lets us forget, that – to coin a phrase – we’re all in this together. As the voices of an Italian coastguard and a Yorkshire payday loan collector speak out from in among us, you realise there but for the grace of God – the people forced to flee persecution or government crackdowns, those who suffer the indignities of derogatory language spat at them or ATOS’ risible assessment procedure, those left with no choice but to make desperate, desperate decisions – it could be us, it is us.  Continue reading “Review: Lampedusa, Soho Theatre”