Review: Closed Lands, VAULT Festival

In 2017 ‘the wall’ gained a new connotation for our generation. Far removed from the more lighthearted connotation it had the previous decade, when it was a place you could write a message to a Facebook friend (who remembers!?), or for the decades preceding this when four of them meant safety and protection. Now, yet again, the term ‘the wall’ represents division built from xenophobia, racism and hatred. 

Closed Lands is a collection of poems originally written by Simon Grangeat, brought to life today as a piece by LegalAliens Theatre. Grangeat’s poems are a mix of verbatim, documentary and fiction. It is therefore apt that Legalalines use a range of mediums to tell the stories, from video and recordings to voice and movement. 

Throughout we watch video projections of various borders, walls and historical events to match what the characters are speaking about, almost to evidence what they are saying. Much of the writing is tough to hear and the audience might prefer to simply pretend it’s not real (something the privileged British have become particularly good at). Of course, the border crisis is sadly very real, as are the amount of deaths because of it. This is a fact the piece doesn’t shy away from as one of the characters states: “you will get there!… Unless you die along the way.”

The characters multirole as migrants, citizens and politicians— Catharina Conte does a brilliantly uncanny Trump, and it’s a relief to have something to laugh at. Luiana Bonfim also stands out as a strong performer and she manages to hold the stage with confidence, even when portraying a frightened refugee.  

The piece is visually interesting. I like that they play videos from Youtube to highlight how the use of un-edited, un-bias ‘media of the people’ is vital in today’s ‘fake news’ world. 

The set is striking and well laid out, they have what I can only describe as a mini cross-fit trainer, which tackles the usual naff-ness of having the characters ‘run away’ on the spot on stage. The characters are all dressed in white which means they particularly stand out on the partly UV-lit stage. They can always be seen, as though they are under surveillance. 

Many of the ideas are innovative, but the execution often lets it down. The chronology feels a little confusing and repetitive as some of the scenes are visually similar. This of course works to highlight the monotony of the plight of refugees and migrants, however a slight restlessness in the audience can be detected. 

The piece cleverly uses sarcasm to address border conflict through Becka McFadden’s character, a smiley Barbie-meets-robot type. She brings great energy to the piece and we laugh out of unease as she grotesquely describes ‘concertina wire’ with an eerie smile. Unfortunately the quality of the mic on her head set, which (in terms of projection) she just doesn’t need, is simply awful, and ought to be done away with entirely.

It is an apt piece for the company as they themselves are migrants, which is perhaps what makes their passion about the topic so tangible. LegalAliens is one to keep an eye on, as not only are they talented, but their heart is definitely in the right place. However, they could’ve done with more time to work on making the piece as accessible and professional as possible to help deliver their message.

Closed Lands is playing the VAULT Festival until 8 March. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.