The world is as funny place. The global economic downturn has led to many things, poverty, austerity and in Anders Lustgarten’s “Lampedusa” the effects are felt by two very ordinary working class people doing jobs that most of us would happily shun or, even better pretend don’t exist.
On the beautiful island of Lampedusa, which if you are not familiar with it is the largest of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Stefano (Ferdy Roberts) is a fisherman, well he used to be a fisherman but economic conditions, fishing quotas and corrupt officials have forced him into another career entirely. True, he is still working on the sea, but now he is a member of the Italian Coast Guard, whose main duties involve sailing the Med and picking up ‘boat people’ – disparagingly referred to by all and sundry as economic migrants – trying to get to Europe. Unfortunately, very few make it and a lot of Stefano’s job involves lifting corpses out of the calm blue water.
2,217 kilometres (1,385 miles) away in Beeston, Denise (Louise Mai Newberry) is juggling the various elements of her life – supporting her invalid mother, completing a university degree and working by day as a pay-day loan collector. It’s a thankless job – though a growing industry as the government’s austerity measures and benefit cuts bite – but Denise makes the best of things, despite the pressure she is under. She knows all the ways people get out of paying what they owe and, despite the abuse she takes as part of her daily grind, she manages to find ways to get through the day.
Listening to Denise and Stefano, it is obvious that although these two people don’t know each other, and will never meet, there are many points of convergence in their lives. They each do a horrible job, which it is fairly obvious they dislike intensely. Their work is necessary but not nice at all and they describe their work in great detail. I’m not sure I personally could do either job but Denise and Stefano accept their lot in life though – particularly in Denise’s case – they are looking for a way out but, until that day comes, each of them has found their own coping mechanism. They seem to view their work dispassionately, becoming almost robotic in their approach to it, not allowing the people or bodies they deal with affect them. And who can blame them, the last thing you need when pulling bodies from the sea or taking someone’s last pound, to cover a debt they should never have been in, is for emotion or a spark of humanity to raise its ugly head. Isn’t it?
“Lampedusa” is being presented as part of the Soho Theatre’s political party season and is a very powerful play that Director Steven Atkinson has staged in the round with Stefano and Denise taking it in turns to tell their story moving among the crowded benches. This leads to a high level of intimacy which, along with very atmospheric lighting and sound by Elliot Griggs and Isobel Waller-Bridge, creates a bond between the audience and the actors with the two being inextricably linked together as the tales unfold. Ferdy and Louise bring Stefano and Denise to life with a level of believability that means “Lampedusa” is not necessarily the most comfortable 70 minutes of theatre you will ever experience – there are real home truths that come out forcing the audience to question their own beliefs and knowledge of others – but it will stay with you long after leaving the theatre.
Review by Terry Eastham
The paradisal island of Lampedusa. Where North Africa meets Rome. Home of postcard vistas, white sand beaches, and the site of the most devastating debris washing up on the shore.
Stefano follows in the footsteps of generations of fishermen. But in the twenty-first century the catch is very different: his job is to pull drowned bodies of migrants out of the Mediterranean. And in the bleakest corners of the UK, Denise tramps from door to door collecting pay day loans, witnessing crippling hardship and hearing complaints about immigration.
Putting us in the shoes of those whose job it is to enforce our rules, this is the story behind the headlines of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.
Lampedusa is by award-winning playwright Anders Lustgarten (If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, A Day at the Racists, Black Jesus) and directed by Steven Atkinson, Artistic Director of HighTide (peddling, Bottleneck, Lidless).
Part of Soho Theatre’s Political Party Season, this is a play which will change the way you view the world. Lampedusa transfers to HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh from 10th – 20th September.
NB: due to the unique construction of this production in the venue, all seating for Lampedusa will be formed of backless benches.
Running Time: 70 minutes
Age Recommendation: 14+
Louise Mai Newberry
BY ANDERS LUSTGARTEN
Wednesday 8 – Sunday 26th April, 7pm except Sun 5.30pm, Sat matinees 2.30pm
Saturday 11th April 2015