Park Theatre – until 30 September 2023
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Emmanuele Aldrovandi’s dark comedy (translated by Marco Young) is set in the near future, where the tide has turned, with economic collapse and closed borders in Europe causing desperate people to risk everything to get to a safer continent and a new life.
The four characters are only described by physical characteristics, remaining nameless just as the media presents real-life migrants. The burly one (Felix Garcia Guyer) is the trafficker, smuggling the others in his shipping container – he only owns the one, describing himself sardonically as a small businessman. The power dynamics are demonstrated instantly, with his looming physicality and capriciousness nature intimidating the travellers. Aldrovandi keeps pulling the rug from under the audience whenever the play seems settled into a narrative arc – characters who seem sympathetic reveal their duplicity, and the vulnerability and fear driving others’ violence and aggression is seen. The stocky one (Marco Young) forced to flee with only a knife, the beautiful one (Yasmine Haller) who has brought mementos of her family, and the tall one (Will Bishop) with his suitcase of impeccably folded Egyptian cotton shirts tiptoe around each other on the claustrophobic journey inside the container. The beautiful one can remember leaving her home and migrating to Europe as a child, and her strong survival instinct means that alliances form and break as half truths and lies are shared and desperation heightens. Neither of the men is who they seem, so any judgemental opinions formed about good and bad migrants are shown as the nonsense they are.
The suffering of the trio in the container is interrupted by the burly one grabbing a microphone and sharing his knowledge (mostly gleaned from Wikipedia) on topics including shipping containers, recipes and whales. Felix Garcia Guyer delivers these monologues with devilish abandon, prowling around the stage with an ominous but pretentious aura and the disturbing feeling that he could attack at any second. These absurdist sections take you out of the migrants’ story for a while, but never distract from the sense of impending disaster. The political and moral messages are delivered with a lighter touch than I expected but raise lots of soul-searching questions. Perhaps some of these could have been addressed with more focus and depth onstage to achieve a sharper and more coherent play.
When a storm hits, and the container is left floating in the ocean, the lengths we will go to to survive are explored – with very funny hypotheticals about who to eat first, and which parts of the body would be best, before things get real – and very nasty. From drinking urine to full-blown cannibalism, the brutality is visceral, but still slightly cartoonish. Director Daniel Emery directs with aplomb and while the ending is dreamlike and understated with no definite conclusion to the characters’ stories but feels right for this strange and disturbing comedy.
The cast all impress, and Alys Whitehead’s set design is atmospheric and appropriately stark, with a red curtain thrust forward and back to represent the container. Jamie Liu’s sound design and Catja Hamilton’s lighting add fantastic dramatic and absurd flourishes to the unsettling production.
A dark and disturbing comedy that makes you laugh and squirm. Well worth a look.