Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Eve and Leah want an adventure. Volunteering in Calais appears to be the adventure for them. They set off, with enough naivete to suggest a lack of planning and when that turns into a confrontation with what they people in the camps are facing, they find strength in each other, get challenged by their desire to do good, end up caught out and confronting issues that were not part of their inability to plan before they return. Time passes, they progress in their lives and through serendipity and a Facebook post they decide to meet up and then get back to the camps. They find it a new world, a different world and their eyes are again opened to the possibilities of a future that is neither cute nor cuddly. They believe now that they shall return again or progress to new volunteering opportunities or just return next year with the story of how things have gone.
It all begins like a pop princess party that looks more likely to be Madonna than Mother Theresa. Eve and Leah have decided to fill their gap year with adventure. In three structured parts we then get their stories of how they travel, move onwards and make a big decision. In between they go from willing volunteers to managers in 6 days, from putting together survival bags with donated goods and sorting the clothing to distributing things around the camps. From there they become closer to those in the camps, befriending a young boy, Jamil, whose tragic story and their collusion in his failed escape is tragic.
Their return home, the first time, is filled with remorse and they drift. An anniversary post hits their social media after 2 years, and they meet up and decide to go back. Their return is different, the camps are smaller, the number of volunteers similarly diminished. It is all safeguarding workshops and not getting involved. The French and the British have altered the rules of engagement and when trouble brews and they don’t get out of the way in time they get caught up in witnessing the worst of authority. They leave scarred.
The cleverness in this for me begins with the structure. We get succoured in by the thought of a girlie adventure that may be more prosecco drinking than political awakening. There is just enough naivete in the beginning that when it is stripped away we are aware of the careful creative management of it. Both Eve and Leah manage that extremely well.
That is the second element of clever. The relationship between these two performers is clear and trusting onstage. As each one of them is confronted by the reality they both face you can see how it affects the other. Even when they drift there is an untold silence and sadness between them that is like a third character.
The technical aspects of the show add and do not detract enough to make most of this more than believable, you could give to their cause without thinking by the end.
They mix the pathos with sufficient mirth and deft daftness to keep you wanting them to triumph, wake up, smell roses and coffee in the same cup and still root for them in equal measure; not an easy balancing act. It is directed with skill and we have enough pauses and pace changes that we are never less than attentive.
By the time they talk of the tragedy of Alan Kirdy we are already metaphorically reaching for our application forms to join their cause. It is a real life tragedy to add to their story of Jamil and his own naive need to open a shop in Birmingham to sell them curries.
They talk of them going to Bosnia next and if parts 1, 2 and 3 are anything to go by, the next few parts will be well worth front row seats.