A powerful and intelligent theatrical experience about migrants and asylum seekers is previewed.
Last week, I saw a very inspiring work in progress at the studio space of the Birmingham Rep by Patrice Naimbana, a Sierra Leonean performer/writer/director.
The Accused was about migrants/asylum seekers coming to Britain. Alongside the experiences of those coming here, it explored the power relations between African countries and the West.
Naimbana’s quirky theatrical take on the world made sure that it was far from being a worthy or dry performance. In fact it was quite the opposite; at times it was bitterly funny, sad and uplifting. Yet it always remained sincere to its intention of immersing the audience in the crazy, painful and unjust situations that the latest arrivals who are ‘lucky’ enough to make it to British shores find themselves – detention centres, on the receiving end of xenophobia from previous generations of immigrants, police brutality or doing sh*t jobs.
Where The Accused took things further than Naimbana previous show Man Who Committed Thought, a remarkable solo piece, was that it involved three very expressive dancers. They added an important symbolic layering to the various monologues. Gestures and words combined to create emotional resonances that each element on its own would have found difficult to achieve.
Although the text still has some way to go, on the whole, it managed to find its mark. The various personae that Naimbana slipped between were totally convincing. Whether it was the nightmare-plagued refugee locked in a room or an African dictator on the phone to his friends Tony Blair and George Bush or Britain’s first African transvestite Oprah cum Jerry Springer celebrity television presenter who moves through the theatre audience asking their views on the war on terror.
The use of projections – British passports and currency filling the backdrop, migrants struggling after being thrown overboard to drown, or live video of the TV presenter and the audience – created an impressive, immersive visual depth to the performance.
As the piece drew to a close you felt, even with it’s rough edges, that you had been part of a powerful and intelligent theatrical experience which had provided an insight into lives and circumstances usually made invisible by craven political sound bites and heartless tabloid headlines. My sole regret being that it was only on for two nights, which meant that I could not tell others to go and see it. But it should be ready for touring later in the year.