Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Performed by four former child refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Albania. Having told their stories to social workers and courts they are now reclaiming them. A unique exploration of masculinity and forced migration. Powerful, celebratory, authentic; refugees take centre stage.
From the opening scene onwards, this is an energetic, enthusiastic and committed production. The performers engage with the audience immediately and we are with them from the start.
There is entertaining use of the pizza shop setting as a vehicle to structure the show: to set the stages of the journeys to the UK, to comment on living here, and to facilitate the scene changes for the storytelling of the four main characters, originating from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Albania. The role of bread – and bread-making across cultures – is also nicely referenced.
The performers are up-front about having English as an additional language, as well as using their own languages throughout the show. There is humour in their colloquial banter and street talk, and the way they joke about each other’s accents and pronunciation. There is also a generosity and humanity in the relationships of the performers on stage.
The characters have a moving (literally and metaphorically) set of stories to tell. They are former child migrants – labelled illegal by the British state – born in unlucky circumstances, who have managed to navigate their way to a place they now call home. We may be on familiar ground with stories of treacherous sea journeys, but these stories need to be told.
There is considerable humour as well – in the way they outline their guidance for life in the UK and deal with awkward customers ordering pizza on the phone – and the audience delighted in their portrayal of their mothers and aunts back home.
There are some moments of intentional didactic content for the audience, including the background to the content of the Ethiopian/Eritrean conflict, a progressive alternative to current politics in Afghanistan and the inhumanity of UK bureaucracy and interrogation practices for asylum seekers and child migrants.
Stories are told retrospectively but are also projected into the future. There is a remarkable section where they share their aspirations for their own and their children’s futures – and since we know how their stories began – we cannot help but be moved. They tell their stories with optimism, determination and willingness to live this new life. Towards the celebratory end of the show there is music and dancing – and perhaps more use could have been made elsewhere of the actors’ musical skills.
If ‘refugees take centre stage’ it is important that they do so throughout, including the post-show requests to recommend and promote the show. This announcement is given by another cast member, but it risks compromising (unintentionally) the actors’ agency, a key message of the play. It does not, however, detract from the overall authenticity and power of the piece.
The show played to a well-deserved packed house with a diverse audience of all ages. This is necessary and important work in these complex political times.