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.