Babylon: Beyond Borders in an ambitious, passion-filled project spanning across four countries. In London, it feels as though I am at the epicentre of this ambitious piece of performance art. It doesn’t partake in the immersion of a typical play and instead remains firmly in an uncomfortable reality, and there is a sense of intense excitement and dread around the room. As the auditorium fills to the brim, some are left standing due to lack of appropriate seating which is not helped by a last minute rush of bar stools being hauled in. It is obvious something important is about to happen as an overhead voice begins to count down to the start of the show. Babylon is simultaneously being broadcasted in London, New York, Sao Paolo and Johannesburg, and thus requires tight scheduling in order to ensure a smooth operation, though unfortunately this is something left to be desired.
The live performance is curated across the globe by the minds of Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Pedro Granato, Mwenya Kabwe and Ruthie Osterman. The collaboration not only spans across countries but fosters an expression of language. As the Brazilian Activist at the Pequeno Ato Theatre in Brazil tells us of his heart-breaking hardships as an out of work man from the Congo, a chorus of women at the Bush Theatre are there to translate with feeling, reading out of books with roses neatly tucked into the spines. Likewise, the chorus is not made up solely of the British, but is filled with a variety of other European voices with a genuine fear for the future.
The direct link between the four countries is sometimes trying, and it takes time for a clear message to be conveyed. Ultimately, the focus falls upon four buildings. The World Trade Centre in New York, Grenfell tower in London, an abandoned high-rise building in Sao Paolo occupied by hundreds of homeless citizens which tragically caught fire, and the Ponte City apartment building in Johannesburg notorious for its suicides. Each country tells its own story with a slideshow-esque projection which can’t be easily read from the audience. There is no set form for each time-zone to follow, so New York sings away the pain of a terrorist attack and the consequent expulsion of thousands of immigrants and citizens alike, while London emulates a documentary, an interview with Grenfell survivors takes place and leads to a creepy but effective Theresa May mask filled conclusion.
As I sit in the audience it is hard to hide from the very real problems of the world. Although it is comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggle, Babylon also shows how very corrupt 21st century society is, where building walls rather than providing homes is a priority. The very real problems expressed on stage breathe new life into Brexit, the performers are not simply talking about it, but are indeed living it.
The performance signifies a larger collaboration that should be taking place with World Leaders, though if Babylon shows anything, it is that this is evidently easier said than done. However, New York’s struggle with streaming, leaving us with pre-recorded song, is ironically appropriate considering Trump’s own inability to function as a world leader. I’m left thinking that the people who come to see performances such as this aren’t the ones that truly need to be exposed to such harsh realities. But, perhaps this is an impossible ask which would fall upon deaf ears.
Babylon: Beyond Borders is playing until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Bush Theatre website.