Last night I saw Potentially Brilliant Productions’ second show Refugee at The Casa, Liverpool. It was a collaborative play devised over 12 weeks of drama workshops. The show was based on the group’s own experiences and viewpoints and made use of elements found in Greek theatre such as the Chorus and the Messenger as Storyteller. The material developed in the workshops was amended, fleshed out and put together by talented director and facilitator, Mikyla Jane Durkan.
The cast who formed this play were all dressed in black clothing will slight variations in style, subtly alluding to the viewpoint that everyone involved the refugee crisis, whether they be refugees themselves, aid workers, politicians or whoever, slot into groups of people who are seen to be all the same, whilst also nodding to the reality of their actual differences. As well as the usual sound effects use was made of the actors’ own voices to provide eerie surround sound leaving the audience surrounded by wind, rain and tears.
There were a number of monologues and performance poetry incorporated into the disjointed and often disorientating story of loss and hope against hope, with many of the actors remaining on stage forming various tableaus, with and without props, cleverly alluding to the fact that people are often asking, begging, shouting for help, but the people around them don’t hear, don’t move, don’t see – just stand there are carry on with their own lives.
The play explored happiness and what it is to be happy. For some people being happy is having the latest iPhone in their hand and the most popular status on Facebook. Other people only hope to have a life without pain and fear. Fear for themselves, fear for their loved ones, fear for their children. What it is to have, want, desire and not have, need, and crave was shown intelligently and sensitively.
As one of the actors was violently bullied on stage, after speaking happily with his British friends, I was reminded of the story of David Oluwale. Almost half a century has passed since this man was hounded on the streets of Leeds and it seems that sadly very little has changed in that time. Whether or not the level of hatred of people coming into this country has lessened or increased over time was something touched upon in the lively Q&A with the cast and director following the show.
Dehumanisation and desperation. Hate and fate. Brutality and compassion. These were all explored with the intensity and understanding needed to show people with everything what it is to have nothing. While each cast member contributed fully to the quality and emotion of the production, I do feel that special mention should be given to Helen Jackson, George Melling and Martin Zopa for being particularly memorable in a particularly memorable performance.
This was a story of individuals who are among millions of people. By seeing the person in a problem which is seen by many as too big and too widely spread to do anything about, it becomes clear that we can all do just that one small thing today, and maybe things won’t be as bad tomorrow. Because “everyone at least should have somewhere to go”.
Refugee was a one night only showing, however you can see a revised version at the inaugural Liverpool Fringe Festival on 22 June. Potentially Brilliant’s next project will begin with a 12 week programme of workshops exploring mental illness through some of Shakespeare’s characters.
Copyright, D M Day, 2017