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ASYLUM at the Camden Peoples Theatre | Review

ASYLUMGiven the amount of time that Curtis Arnold Harmer claims to have spent in coffee shops – thinking, watching, contemplating – it’s slightly surprising he hasn’t come up with any possible solutions to the problems facing modern Britain, and the wider world. It is unreasonable, of course, to expect one person to have thought up ways of reducing inequalities and tackling some very deep-rooted issues that Asylum explores. Then again, it is sometimes said of the Church that we (sort of) know what it is ‘against’, but we haven’t a clue what it is ‘for’. A similar assertion could be said of Curtis (welcoming and approachable, it’s first name terms here): his anger and frustrations are increasingly palpable, but what is to be done to change the status quo, if the status quo is so unjust?

One man, we are told, can’t afford £1.60 for a bottle of water – but where is he shopping? I had a look at the Sainsbury’s website after the show out of curiosity: two-litre bottles of Evian were going for £1 each, and own-brand 500ml bottles were selling for 50p, with the Evian equivalents at 70p.

Perhaps the point being made is that he doesn’t even have 50p to his name, but it is nonetheless a bold assumption to make that everyone in the audience who can afford to come to a theatre show is in a position of privilege. Quite a few of the examples given where money is seemingly (if not actually) spent frivolously I couldn’t relate to at all.

There are verbatim quotes from political figures, with Theresa May featuring prominently, speaking (presumably back when she was Home Secretary) about making it easier to deport people from the UK. The subject of war comes up, and there’s an intriguing juxtaposition between a Muslim below the poverty line praying on the street in the small hours of the morning, while those who do not actively practise religion of any sort are inside a nightclub, paying nightclub prices for beers, shots and spirits.

Now, it’s commonplace for the cast of a show to acknowledge the sound and lighting desk at the curtain call. But what if, as happens here, much of the sound and lighting is controlled from a desk on stage? It allows the audience an opportunity to see quite how much is involved in seeing to it that all the cues are done, and the right buttons are pressed at the right time. On the other hand, there isn’t much else to look at, save for a projected translation of the recorded words of Abdullah Kurdi, the father of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after his family escaped from the organisation referred to as ‘ISIL (Da’esh)’ by the UK Government website.

There could be more congruence between the pulsating soundscape and the lighting, which is often too static for what is often a briskly-paced monologue. The variation in tone and pace is good, and though there is nothing in the production that is even mildly offensive (the odd line or two is somewhat provocative, perhaps, but not malice is neither intended nor evident), it is a further indictment on how oversensitive some people can be that Curtis feels it necessary to apologise if anything in the show was too uncomfortable.

Having given a platform to the Conservative Party, other political voices could be given a look-in as well. An example: whatever one thinks of Jeremy Corbyn and his policies (I shan’t bore you with my own views on that point), his consistent stance against homelessness and rough sleeping is worth quoting. As it stands, this is an excellent effort, and with a few tweaks and polishes, could develop into something of a masterpiece.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

As the world cup begins and the St Georges Cross adorns the cars that park on my street, I feel my stomach begin to churn.’

Have you ever sat down and questioned what part you play in this world of ours?

Asylum is an experiment of live music production, spoken word and politics. The sound of droning guitar and staggering synths will act as a symphony for the forgotten in this piece about status, patriotism, you, me, us & them.

This performance is written, devised and performed by Curtis Arnold-Harmer Directed by Kira Golightly
Supported by the University of Chichester.

This production may contain swearing.

ASYLUM
Camden Peoples Theatre15+
Sun 11 Nov at 7pm
https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/

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