Home » London Theatre Reviews » I and the Village at The Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

I and the Village at The Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

I and the Village is set in the pre-pandemic world, exploring the long wait people have in what Ireland calls ‘direct provision’, the system used to house asylum seekers in the country. The production eschews politics of the parliamentary kind, and tries to put both sides of the story across – Hannah (Laide Sonola) expresses frustrations with the apparent improvements to direct provision in 2018, while Carl (Mark Rush) insists the revisions are an improvement on what went on before.

I and The Village - Credit Ali Wright.
I and The Village – Credit Ali Wright.

Asylum seekers are not, Keicha (Funke Adeleke) points out with a mixture of matter-of-factness and sarcasm, permitted to redecorate their rooms – they could not, weekly allowances being what they are, afford to do so in any event. Completing the set of on-stage characters is Jeta (Chido Kunene), who has been in direct provision for six years – Keicha, meanwhile, has been sitting in limbo for eight.

As the show is set entirely within the ladies’ bedroom, whatever the food in the canteen is like, for instance, is described in general terms, but it is telling that Jeta spends what little money she has on extra supplies from the nearest grocery store, or as she calls it, “the f—ing Spar”. Food beyond what is provided in the canteen at designated mealtimes is also against the regulations. What perhaps could be made clearer in the show, one way or another, is the use of private contractors by the Irish state to run Direct Provision centres, which has led to poor facilities and living conditions, all while the operating companies make a tidy profit at the expense of the taxpayer.

Perhaps inevitably, the stories these ladies tell are harrowing, though sometimes what is not said can ‘speak’ just as loudly. There’s a lot of exposition, and recollections of what went on in the characters’ lives some years ago. This raises questions about how reliable the narratives are, given the passage of time and the psychological toll of recalling, not always through choice, negative and traumatising experiences. The stories are nonetheless credible, as are the potential dangers they could be forced to confront if their applications are ultimately rejected.

This isn’t the first show about people having to leave their homeland – the final scene in Fiddler on the Roof is always emotionally charged – but it is probably the first one I’ve come across that has people trying to settle in Ireland, as opposed to moving out of Ireland by way of economic necessity.

The impact of direct provision on mental wellbeing cannot be underestimated, and this play pulls no punches in dramatizing the extent to which asylum seekers are negatively affected. There are even examples of women being prostituted: it was the case that taking on employment of any kind, even a zero-hours contract, was not permitted, so any income from working had to be cash in hand.

It’s the sort of production that helps the likes of yours truly put their own lives into perspective – my recent ‘problems’ included a faulty doorbell, a leaking overflow pipe and a Deliveroo delivery driver who took ages to get my restaurant order to my front door because his sat-nav was being uncooperative. It would be giving too much away to state what the characters’ situations were, suffice to say they were considerably more substantial to say the least.

The production was engaging enough to maintain interest throughout, with some plot twists and revelations that added to character development. The art of storytelling is very much alive in this forthright piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Living in limbo at an isolated Direct Provision Centre, Keicha and Jeta await decisions on their status to remain in Ireland. Sharing a room, their memories and fantasies seep into the dank walls merging into one story. When eighteen-year-old Hannah joins them she must fight to maintain her sense of identity or risk getting swept up in their reality. Limited in what he can do, kind-hearted Carl, battles with his morals and his position as Centre Manager.

I & the Village by Darren Donohue (2019 Bread & Roses Playwriting Award Winner) explores the consequences of long term confinement in a system designed to be flawed. A story of longing, survival and hope.

“I’ve seen the world crash down but I’m still here”

This production is supported by Arts Council England & DCMS Culture Recovery Fund, Lambeth Economic Resilience Fund, Unity Theatre Trust & The Royal Victoria Hall Foundation.

Chido Kunene, Funke Adeleke, Laide Sonola, Mark Rush

Co-Directors: Rebecca Pryle & Velenzia Spearpoint
Assistant Director: Tom Ward (Bread & Roses Emerging Director 2021)
Researcher/Dramaturg: Matilda Velevitch
Producer: Natalie Chan
Assistant Producer: Rosie Sharp (Bread & Roses Emerging Producer 2021)
Set & Costume Designer: Constance Villemot
Lighting & Sound Designer: Chuma Emembolu

Running Time: 2hrs approx (including interval)

I and the Village
written by Darren Donohue, co-directed by Rebecca Pryle & Velenzia Spearpoint (The Bread & Roses Theatre Company)
25th May – 5th June (Tue-Sat) at 7:30pm


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