There’s a significant difference between a show that talks about refugees, and a show on this topic whose actors actually are refugees. An inevitable poignancy shines through, an immediacy that comes from the cast telling their own stories and communicating their own feelings. In this sense, theatre company Borderline excels at presenting some of the actors’ own stories wrapped in comedy.
Welcome to the UK, directed by Sophie NL Besse, is a satirical comedy show in which the plight of refugees coming to this country is presented in a circus setting, with their struggles represented as attractions. Thus, a trafficked woman who arrives from Iran is in the ‘haunted house’, whilst the emotional roller-coaster of the refugee status bureaucracy becomes an actual roller-coaster. The ‘baddie’ of the show is a caricature of Prime Minister Theresa May, who plays Home Office bingo with the futures of others and manufactures headlines with the aid of media manipulator Katie.
The main problem of this show is that it is a loosely-connected succession of scenes that aren’t always connected. The overall theme is clear, but we are given just the tiniest of glimpses into the lives of the refugees, often leaving the stories unfinished or just very roughly sketched. As such, it is difficult to really connect with any of the stories as there is no time to create that connection. Additionally, the rhythm is irregular throughout and the comedy element is also inconsistent.
While some of the sketches are particularly good – like the aforementioned Home Office bingo, the liberal Mary Poppins do-gooder, and the refugee status interview, for instance – others are a bit underwhelming and seem clunky in comparison. It is perhaps in the quieter, more dramatic moments – like Abdulrahman Salama perched on a ladder waiting, or the newly-wed Iranian refugee arriving in the UK – where the soul of the show lies, but these moments are few and far apart.
Welcome to the UK succeeds in talking about refugees and their ordeals in a seemingly light-hearted way, even though there is nothing light-hearted about it. In this show, the company continues the important work they started in Borderline, set in the Calais Jungle and now performed alongside the newer show twice a week. However, it lacks cohesion and a consistent rhythm, and could do with some rewriting, rethinking and polishing of the main narrative thread. It is a good conversation starter, and considering it is accompanied by a Q&A after the show, it does take the conversation further. But the show’s important and serious message gets lost somewhere in the circus.
Welcome to the UK is playing until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Bunker Theatre website.