The Journey - Reviews
Edinburgh Festival.Org ****
This is an excoriating, disturbing and intense hour of theatre in the round, and it highlights the desperate plight of refugees in a hard-hitting and unforgettable way.
Three actors play the role of a family who are ‘found by war’ and graphically portray their plight as war comes to their unnamed home and gradually but inexorably tears their lives apart. The language is clipped, passionate and at times staccato-like, echoing the gunfire and shelling sound effects that erupt with heart-stopping intensity.
The gradual slide into chaos is hauntingly drawn as we move from playful childish bickering between siblings into intense, ferocious shouts and screams as an ordinary family is caught up in an ever-intensifying spiral of violence, and shocking details of rape and torture unfold. It is often very uncomfortable to watch, as the players catch your eyes and talk directly to you as an audience member. The emotional, psychological and physical effects of having to uproot yourself from your home are highlighted with a dark, crystal clarity in this powerful performance.
With the circling, menacing character of an interrogative narrator, the empty and chilling rhetoric of governments both abroad and ‘at home’ is exposed for the sham that it is, and the clash in values with the clear desperation of the family engulfed by war and forced to flee from one city to another, and ultimately forced to cross the border of their war-ravaged country is stark.
At the end of the piece, the voice of another refugee who has stood witness to all of this in silence speaks quietly and eloquently about their own plight, and as a whole this dark and troubling piece of theatre speaks to us of the dehumanising effect not only of the war, but of the treatment of refugees by the people they had hoped to find help and simple human understanding from.
This is raw, emotional and poignant theatre, and the images and language stay with you long after you have left the theatre and walked through your peaceful city streets to your warm, safe home. It is all the more powerful as the performances come from British based refugee actors who still face an uncertain future here. You cannot fail but to think of your own family in such a situation, and then think of how what you hoped would be a place of welcome, warmth and safety would treat you.
Steve Lambert is a man with a mission and we need him more than ever now. He is the actor at the heart of Badac Theatre, a company that stages challenging work with a core human rights message. As the issues that Badac deal with are often violent and difficult the drama reflects this, and the plays are never an easy watch.
Steve wrote and directed The Journey following extensive research both in the UK and in the Middle East and he aims to give a voice to people who find themselves as refugees after their homes, communities and families are torn apart by civil war, religious extremism or state-run violent oppression. While he appears in this play himself as both the narrator and the voice of authority the action is mostly portrayed by the three principal performers.
Maria Alexe plays a single mother who is happy working as a teacher and bringing up her two children, a teenage girl played by Rebecca Wilson and a slightly older boy played by Bogdan Silaghi. The characters have no names, reflecting both the depersonalisation of the refugee treatment processes in many countries and their role as ‘everyman’ refugees, their story being collated from the experiences of many. We also meet Egyptian born Norwich citizen Salah El Nagar, who stands mute through most of the play but adds the voice of his own experience towards the end, and in the post-play discussion.
The family experience the reality of life in strife torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, where bombs made in Britain or America rain down on the apartments of families with no involvement in the political and religious struggles taking place around them. Torture and rape are suddenly a constant everyday threat, there is no food, water or electricity to be had. Director Steve Lambert asks a lot of his cast, and they deliver magnificently leaving us with no doubt of just how harrowing the refugee experience is that drives them from their home and country to trust strangers to help them rebuild their lives.
The play touches on the distrust and hostility not just of some host countries citizens but worse their officials, forever doubting the veracity of the claims of those seeking sanctuary and some chance of regaining a normal life. Refugees who make it through many boundaries and physical challenges tend to be very resourceful and capable people who often go on to contribute massively to the life of their new host countries, but even in their new homes they face discrimination and intolerance from ignorant people driven to hatred by demagogues like Trump and Farage and the tabloid press that thrives on division.
This play is not an easy watch, although perhaps less violent and visceral than some of the work that Steve has brought us previously, but it is a hugely rewarding theatrical experience which will make even the most sympathetic of us reconsider how we address the issue of refugees and our part in creating their problems in the first place. The three members of the family are brilliantly brought to life by the cast who remain realistic in their depiction of family life while enduring unimaginable depredations. Badac theatre has once again given us a landmark production that is worth seeking out – if you missed the Norwich performance the play will be performed in Great Yarmouth on the 7th December. Norwich Arts centre can always draw a good audience for difficult drama, it will be interesting to see how Yarmouth compares!
Talking to Steve after the play I observed that unlike much of his work which features a very close involvement with his audience this play would actually work on TV, which would bring this important work to wider audience. It will be interesting to see whether any producer would be brave enough to rise to that challenge. Any offers?