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Review: Routes

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Hannah Tookey


Rachel De-lehay’s latest play doesn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know; a harsh and unfair immigration system devoid of all concern for emotional ties or a personal sense of identity favours a technical ‘home’ as documented on a passport, which is causing distress on both sides of the immigration border. Routes is relatively tame, given the potential scope of this subject matter; it doesn’t demand a call to action, and for the most part, the characters in this play are pretty unlike-able, but sharp direction from Simon Godwin, strong dialogue and a flicker of compassion hold it together well.

Routes follows two journeys. A Nigerian man, Femi, is paying extortionate prices and risking legal action by purchasing false documents in an attempt to travel back to London, where he was forced to leave his family following his previous deportation. Then there is Bashir, a Somali-born teenager who has been raised in the UK, and who, following a completed criminal sentence and the death of his parents, is facing deportation to his legal ‘home’ come his eighteenth birthday.

It is this relationship between Bashir, and the antagonistic and thieving Kola, who have been lumped together as roommates in their hostel, which initially starts out as a volatile exchange ingrained with racist preconceptions, that develops into the a touching narrative. Fiston Barek (Bashir) and Calvin Demba (Kola) play off each other well, with a youthful energy that highlights these contrasting and down-to-earth characters.

De-lehay rapidly develops the relationships in Routes through snappy dialogue.  The strained relationship between Kola and his mother, Lisa, that has been damaged by his past violence towards her, draws out the emotional void surrounding this youngster. Juxtaposed alongside Bashir’s misunderstanding of the intentions of his volunteer worker, Anka, who is appealing the deportation sentence levied against him, De-lehay paints a raw image of the safety, security and compassion that is lacking in the immigration system. Moments of humour serve as a defensive measure against the pain and longing felt by these two young boys, desperately seeking a place to call home.

It is a touching and realistic portrayal of the anxieties surrounding a multicultural Britain. Coupled with Femi’s efforts to return to his home and family in London, the parallel stories in Routes provide a dynamic reminder of the disparity between those who legally belong, and those who call Britain home. The connection of Lisa, who works for the UK Border Agency and unsurprisingly deals with Femi at border control seems a slight stretch for this short piece, but it is salvaged by an authentically jaded performance by Claire Lams. Anamaria Marinca is also impressive as Anka, offering a warm and humane light amongst the desolate futures facing Bashir and Femi. Seun Shote (Abiola), and Peter Bankolé (Femi) also offer an injection of high energy and colour into De-lehay’s matter-of-fact play.

Routes is playing at the Royal Court Upstairs until 12 October. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court Theatre website.

Hannah Tookey

Hannah Tookey

Hannah is a freelance theatre and film producer with a slightly worrying addiction to coffee and travel. A graduate of Warwick University, she's worked with the RSC, NYT, and Many Rivers Productions, amongst others.

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Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Eleanor Turney

James Corden needs to be superlatively good to carry this show: make no mistake, Francis Hensahll, the “one man” of the title, is onstage virtually the whole time, and he carries a lot of plot and jokes on his shoulders. Lucky, then, that Corden imbues Francis with the energy to make him a  rogue while adding just enough pathos to keep him likeable. He is an extremely talented clown, adept at manipulating his audience and making sure we are rooting for him as he begs, borrows and steals his way from rags to, well, not riches, but at least a good dinner and a trip to Majorca.

The audience in the Lyttleton on a Sunday afternoon was kind to Corden – perhaps a little too ready to laugh: there is a tendency to be prepped to laugh when we know we are seeing a comedy and that a well-known comedian is in the title role. This can mean that the jokes don’t necessarily have to hold up to much scrutiny, they just need to be delivered by the right person. As I say, I have no doubt that Corden was the right man for the job, but I am not convinced that the jokes would fare as well in less capable hands.

Richard Bean has taken Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters and dragged it into the 1960s, complete with Beatnik actor-wannabe, a beehive-sporting proponent of Women’s Lib and a wonderful be-suited skiffle band. There are moments when the script could be sharper, but it has some nice flourishes and enough genuinely funny nods to the time to keep the punters happy. Dolly (Suzie Toase) declares at one point that in the next 20 years there will be a woman in 10 Downing Street and that caring for the poor, compassion and an end to foreign wars cannot be far behind. It’s adeptly done, but overall Bean’s script is not quite as deft as it could have been.

His characters remain a little two-dimensional, too. Pauline (Claire Lams) is thick. That’s about all we learn about her, through no fault of either Lams herself or Nicholas Hytner’s direction. Her wayward fiance, Alan (Daniel Rigby) is an Actor with a capital A, and flounces a lot. He is very funny, but  rather a slender character. Diminutive Jemima Rooper as Rachel/Roscoe is genuinely intimidating, and plays with a lightness of touch missing from some of the other cast members – she doesn’t become a caricature despite not being given a great deal to work with. Oliver Chris as Stanley is furiously channeling Hugh Laurie’s Bertie Wooster for much of the show, with a few more boarding-school jokes thrown in for good measure. He is hilarious, but one can’t help but wonder what the fiesty Rachel sees in his ugger-bugger Stanley.

Grant Olding’s musical interludes are wonderful: they set the mood nicely and provide entertainment during the scene changes. However, they become increasingly frequent and more bizarre as the show goes on, until it inexplicably turns into a musical in the last five minutes, as if Bean didn’t know what else to do with his story and demanded a big ensemble number as a finale. The cast have serviceable voices, including Corden, but it all gets a bit silly towards the end. The skiffle band, however, are great – good musicians and personable performers, and I enjoyed Corden’s turn on the metalophone wearing a rather natty fez.

The piece is predictable enough, but Bean/Goldoni work in enough clever set-pieces to keep it pacy, expertly directed by Hytner. The humour is slapstick in the extreme, and the fourth wall is broken frequently and with impunity. All-in-all it’s a silly, cheerful vehicle for Corden to clown – which he does superlatively well.

One Man, Two Guvnors is playing at the National Theatre until 19th September. If you’re under 26, you can get £5 tickets for the show. See the website for more information.

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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