Review: The Claim, Royal Exchange

A chair, a box of tissues, six stark beams of light and the kind of classical-feeling music that gets played down the phone when you’re placed on hold. Serge is on hold. Waiting.

Tim Cowbury’s The Claim takes us into a waiting zone, a space in which Serge experiences what is commonly referred to as a substantive interview but, in reality, is a much more distorted and unsettling pocket of time filled with miscommunication and a sheer lack of listening.

Serge has come to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo, via Uganda. He cannot go home. Though A and B’s interrogation of his story and failure to really listen to Serge brings this need to stay in a safe place in jeopardy. A mix of mistranslation, ignorance and the involvement of an unrelated personal matter between the assessors are a cause for concern and, whilst we can laugh through much of the horror, it is the sort of laughter that comes from feeling helpless and unsettled. Tim Cowbury’s witty play on language and dismantling of idioms presses us an audience to reflect on what it really means for something to be ‘lost in translation’ and, how one translation error can completely evolve a story from being about a scared child with a special piece of gum to a child soldier wielding a gun.

What is key throughout this play is the exploration of the themes of space and escapism. The juxtaposition of Serge’s need for a safe space in the UK against A’s desperate urge to take B on a trip to Ios is a clear indicator of the difference in privilege between the two parties. When A states “where there is water, there’s life” (following a conversation around water on Mars), it becomes clear that there are questions around access, responsibility and need – who controls the flow? It is very clear in this scenario that, for Serge, life isn’t accessible. Something that should be inherently free to all is in someone else’s hands. And this is made beautifully apparent in the simple scenario of Serge repeatedly asking for water yet not receiving it until towards the end of the performance.

Nick Blakeley (A) and Yusra Warsama (B) give strong and compelling performances. The contrast between Nick’s flappy over-talker and Yusra’s focused, resulted orientated demeanour make them the perfect performance duo. Ncuti Gatwa’s performance as Serge is both warm and captivating – his comedic charm is unquestionable along with his ability to translate emotional pain.

Mark Maughan has brought an important and often untold experience to the stage and, executed it in a way that is accessible without the depth and complexity of the story becoming lost. This is how you make political theatre to reach a wider audience. Superb.

The Claim is currently touring the UK. For more information, visit https://www.theclaimshow.co.uk/

Charlotte Maxwell

Charlotte Maxwell

Charlotte is the Editor of A Younger Theatre and regularly reviews theatre for The Stage and on her website, afronalysis.com. Outside of reviewing, Charlotte is a writer, actor and director. She has had the pleasure of working with the Royal Exchange, Contact, Graeae, HOME, National Youth Theatre, Manchester Literature Festival and Parklife. With a background in education and healthcare, she has a terrible curiosity about human behaviour and an interest in using the arts to support learning. Charlotte read Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle University and will be embarking on an MEd in Psychology of Education at the University of Manchester in 2018.