Brighton Fringe 2017
PSYCHEdelight presents a satire of the Calais Jungle, devised by an ensemble of refugee and European performers. The refugees in the show come from Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine.
The stage is almost bare save for many shoes strewn hither and thither and in a great mound stage right.
Men and one woman arrive from backstage, take off their shoes… They smile, they are silent. They do nothing. And we are applauding. But….why? Because they’ve got this far. Perhaps because they’ve… made it!
More shoes come, each telling a story, the whole stage becomes bestrewn with these echoes of The Holocaust.
A thief comes, to the sound of a “Jaws” accordion, a black bin-liner in hand, and starts to steal the shoes, take them for himself. Clearly a villain, possibly a trafficker?
The shoes are metaphors clearly. For the thousands of stories, that are mostly untold.
Straining our necks to turn our heads it’s uncomfortable, to hear over the claustrophobic constant whirr of fans from the venue’s inflation system (it’s an inflatable dome) the voice of the BBC news from Afghanistan at the back of the auditorium. Smoke comes, explosions, gunfire, more men carrying more shoes. In lines, begging to be allowed onto the boat. Bodies perfectly used to form a crowded rubber dinghy. A meagre supply of water is offered, and hands shoot up, a forest begging to be watered.
Beautiful foreign languages form soundscapes for a middle-class theatre-going audience to enjoy.
We’re lucky! They are here, so that we don’t have to go… there, to The Jungle. Sangatte Camp, Calais. They’ve brought it… to us.
Now we’re going there, we arrive, start to see the ramshackle, makeshift camp being built, tyres, more shoes, bits and bobs, plastic sheeting, candles and solar powered LEDs for light.
Bodies form generators, dogs, motorcycles… with implications of rats,
Confused European volunteers, one wearing a “#Been to Calais” T-shirt, another wearing a large “I’m a volunteer” T-shirt come… to look for jobs, or “experience”.
One’s only here to “connect with Syrians”, I’ve brought my ukelele, I’m here to connect with my music.”. She is a person-to-person type person. She is here for the vibe, to smoke some weed. Its all just “sooo Glastonbury.”
The generator stops, the football on the tv dies, the lights go out, my mobile phone can’t be charged any more. Something to crowd around, something to bond around, something to fight over?
Next The Jungle fashion show, from crazy donated clothes, ending in a burlesque young high-heeled Middle Eastern hunk. The bodies form a fence with cars going past. They queue, they fend off rats. We are in a makeshift shelter, under the rain, surrounded by rats, the traffickers, gathering people for the next cargo out, get in line, get down! Under the searchlight in our great escape group. Hopeful of making it… this time.
Yet another accident at the fence, another teen has died trying to jump it and onto a truck. An earth to earth send off for the dead would-be passenger, a ceremony over a burial mound of shoes. Together they sing that they, like Abba, “believe in angels”. The final most powerful moment of stillness, and harmony in all the chaos, the scattered shoes, the litter, the debris and detritus. Ironically death brings focus, even deeper community. The voices singing bringing us all together.
Great physical ensemble work to imply the breaking up of the camp, of bodies in refugees boats, bodies hit by pepper spray, bodies rounded up by sniffer dogs.
From early on in borderline we get to understand that this is social theatre. Community theatre
With that caveat, and therefore the understanding, that we are watching a roughly 5 to 10 ratio mix of performance professionals, and those who have experienced life in the world of the refugee, got together by a director who is first and foremost a therapist, and social activist, and theatrical workshopper, then we know that we are witnessing people being given a chance in an unfair world.
Hence, the piece is already beautiful, and seeing the fruits of workshops, scattered rehearsals built around difficult piecemeal livelihoods, people coming from transient and unsettled backgrounds impacted upon by upheaval and instability. To have put together this work as a clearly deeply close-knit team and community is moving all of its own accord.
As I said… They’re doing us a big favour, saving you the need to go to Calais or any other refugee camp. If you’ve never been, it’s as close as you’re going to get, bringing you a flavour of life, of moments, of situations that anyone with an imagination and a willingness to use it, in envisaging what life must be like in such a camp, will recognise. Count your blessings. Each moment portrayed for you is a measure of what you (God-willing) will never have to go through.