The ladies of Paradigm Theatre Company have succeeded in doing something I honestly didn’t believe was possible; deliver a fresh, original perspective on the subject of immigration. Here you will find no limping clichés, no ponderous finger-wagging; rather a couple of one-act tales which entertain, surprise and appal in equal measure.
A Border Story is an autobiographical account of the tribulations suffered by the American writer, Sarah Pitard, when trying to obtain a visa to remain in the UK. Her character Amy’s bafflement at the hoops she has to jump through and frustration at the implacable illogicality of the Powers That Be will strike a chord with many. Lee Lytle in the main role is entertaining and credible with her big-eyed bewilderment and fits of incredulous giggles, although occasionally upstaged by Paul Tonkin as her husband Brian, whose charming, stuttery diffidence and comic facial expressions made him wonderfully watchable. He also brought some much needed pathos to the scenario; as we watched him slave thanklessly over a hot grill in a less than salubrious Parisian café it was brought home to the audience just how uncertain their future and that of their unborn child was. A clever set built entirely of suitcases added to the transient, rootless atmosphere; however the cheeriness of the play made it hard to worry about the couple too deeply.
How different was the second play, The Utility People. Here the darkness loomed through the brightly comic veneer. When Jake and Chloe, a couple of middle-class, Guardian reading liberals discover an immigrant mother and son living in their utility room they decide, out of the goodness of their hearts, to allow them to stay – in return for a few menial chores, of course. Gradually the relationship becomes more twisted and sinister, the favours demanded become more serious, and the whole nature of goodness, liberality and morality is called into question. Matt Houlihan and Antonia Reid are sufficiently smug and self-righteous as the new landlords, but it is Oliver Gatz as narrator and government official who steals the show. Wry, sardonic and very funny, he had the audience bellowing with laughter; so much so that when the tone of the play suddenly changed, the shiny façade stripped away to reveal the ugliness beneath, everyone was taken completely by surprise. Uneasy chuckles were quickly disguised by embarrassed coughs, as people began to realise exactly what they had been laughing at. I would almost have liked it to be a little more brutal, that sudden change, maybe a dip in the lighting would have helped, but it was shockingly effective nonetheless. You are left questioning not only your own values and your notion of yourself as a good person, but also the future of Britain itself.
Fresh Off The Boat! Is an ingenious way to get people thinking, whilst also being very entertaining. A big success for Paradigm.
Review by Genni Trickett
Fresh Off The Boat is at The Hen and Chickens Theatre from 8th to 12th October, Tues to Sat 7.30pm, Sat Mat 3pm £12/10
Wednesday 9th October 2013