Brighton Fringe 2015
We always go to the theatre in the hope of finding a little gem amongst the great piles of dross. Yesterday at The Warren I discovered two at the same time.
The Theatre Box is a tiny theatre, seemingly constructed out of four small steel shipping containers, creating an intimate space not more than six metres wide and maybe twice as long. There’s an acting area and little wings taking up the full width at the front, and they’ve managed to fit in an inclined rake of seating that can accommodate an audience of seventy. It’s painted red on the outside, and you would almost mistake it for a slightly larger version of the traditional red phone box – but inside it feels like a full-size theatre. Dr. Who meets Gulliver’s Travels . . .
And inside that, another gem. ‘How Will I Know?’ is a play about immigration into the US, along the lines of the film ‘Green Card’. This one is done as a farce, though, and the writer German Munoz has managed to pack in all the classic elements – a convoluted plot, sexual deceit, hysteria, slapstick – with fully realised characters and crackling dialogue. The pace never slackens, and at just forty minutes long it doesn’t overstay its welcome by dragging out the situation. At the end, we were left still wanting more.
Mark wants to keep his Mexican boyfriend Diego in the United States – Diego is in the country illegally, so Mark’s best friend Brooke has agreed to marry him, and now after the marriage the couple must be investigated by the Immigration Service to allow Diego to get his Green Card residency permit. (Isn’t that the thing lots of women would do for their Gay Best Friend? . . .)
It’s the night before the Immigration hearing, and the three are role-playing the questions that will be put to Diego and Brooke to check that their marriage isn’t a sham – where and when did they originally meet?, for example.
Mark is incredibly stressed, as Diego can’t remember basic stuff like dates and days. Neil Allen is tall and thin, and he plays Mark as a metrosexual, with hair very short at the sides and slightly floppy on top, and a beautiful maroon sweater. He’s always fussing – messing with a video camera he’s using to record the role-play, and shuffling his test cards back and forth as he barks out the questions that the other two will be faced with.
Added to all that, it’s almost midnight – they’re all hungry and waiting for pizza to be delivered, and as it’s Halloween the doorbell of Mark’s apartment keeps ringing. Will it be food or ‘Trick-or-Treat’ kids demanding sweets? Mark’s voice rises to a shrill squeak as the interruptions keep destroying his concentration.
Diego is much calmer. He’s heavier than Mark, with dark hair and a full black beard. Niccolò Curradi gives him a gravitas that Mark lacks, but also a boyish playfulness. When Mark berates him for not taking the situation seriously enough, he smiles engagingly as he hugs his boyfriend – "But I’m sexy, though".
Trouble is – Diego is rather too sexy. We learn that after the marriage ceremony, Diego and Brooke actually slept together and had sex, and now Diego has a passion for Brooke, and wants to leave Mark for her, once he has obtained his Green Card.
This is a classic farce scenario. Brooke (beautifully brought to life by Anna Frankl-Duval), is horrified by Diego’s treachery, but she’s also attracted to him – he’s sexy – and so the couple keep leaping on each other as soon as Mark is out of the room. Mark, in his turn, has been trying to encourage the other two to simulate some sexual attraction to display to the Immigration official next day, so he assumes that what he sees on his return is not a passionate embrace, but some realistic acting.
Diego really is duplicitous – as the action proceeds he professes love to both Mark and Brooke in turn, threatening to betray each one to the other if they don’t do what he wants. The action is fast-paced, or maybe I should say ‘farce-paced’, with shifts and twists of allegiance, and loads of slapstick crashing around with food (when the pizza finally arrives) and condoms (don’t ask!). All choregraphed very competently by director Kanika Clayton.
It’s farce – funny, fast and sexy – but with a deeply serious underlying truth. Diego may behave appallingly, but he’s doing so because he’s desperate to find security in the United States. Like most immigrants, he’ll try almost anything to escape from the poverty of his home country. He’s prepared to offer sex (gay or straight) to gain security – other Third World people risk their lives in leaking boats or hanging under railway wagons to enter a country where they hope their prospects will be better.
This is an important message, but writer German Munoz has written something very subtle as well as very funny. His characters are very three-dimensional – Mark and Brooke are well-off white North Americans, presumably well-educated, and yet they appear mixed-up and insecure in relation to Diego, who’s poor, but who’s focussed, and a man who knows exactly what his goals are. He’s the archetypical Southerner – dark, sexually potent, powerful, uncontrollable . . .
Finally, I believed in them all as people, I cared about them, which is probably the most important result a show can produce. I wasn’t the only one, either – a number of audience members made the same sort of comments afterwards.
All in all, a very entertaining and thought-provoking show, and a great christening for The Theatre Box at The Warren.