Anon(ymous) is the tale of a refugee teenager, on the run from a war-torn country and searching for a home he can no longer define, whose sense he lost long ago. Shipwrecked on the illegal crossing to the US as a boy and separated from his mother, he leaves his wealthy adoptive parents to try and find her again. The story intercuts between his journey and his mother’s plight – confined to a sweatshop downtown, pressed into an unwanted engagement by the sleazeball manager, devoid of hope, believing her son is dead.
It is a reworking of the Odyssey but also a story for our times – a story charting the fragmented hopes and aborted dreams of those seeking asylum and salvation who get cut off and cut out of history on the way.
Naomi Iizuka’s ambitious script cannot be easy to stage and the students of Pepperdine University manage it masterfully. With sparse sets, simple but evocative sound effects and a beautiful undercurrent of song, this production draws you in completely and conjures infinite worlds of both hope and despair. The characterisation at times runs a little too close to Western as bad, ethnic as good – but while it risks becoming trite, it never veers to caricature. The acting is almost unanimously superb: compelling, poignant and very mature.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero names himself ‘Nobody’ to get out of a sticky situation: his numerous aliases throughout his adventures are part of his unique cunning and ingenuity. But in Anon(ymous) we see what it is to truly be ‘nobody’ – to be a faceless, nameless nonentity by default rather than design. Being anonymous saves our protagonist’s skin many times, but it also condemns him, more often than not, to cruelty and corruption. Deemed unworthy of attention and insignificant enough to exploit, our anonymous hero is the everyman of those the world would prefer to forget. This play opens its audience’s eyes to the realities of human trafficking: bloody, brutal, demeaning and often deadly.
For those who know the classic tale, this narrative is wonderfully interwoven with motifs and images from the original text – but anyone will be knocked for six by this powerful retelling. It brings its audience to a point from which it is difficult to return – a brilliantly inventive and very affecting piece of theatre.
***** – 5/5 Stars
Anon(ymous) is playing at C at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 11 August. For more information and tickets, see the C venues website.