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Illegal at Underbelly Cowgate (White Belly) | Edinburgh Fringe

Illegal - Claire FraserWhile the Trump Administration could hardly be termed ‘liberal’ by any stretch of the imagination (nor, I suspect, would it want such a description foisted on it), Jessica Phillippi’s American playwright character doesn’t think much of the UK Government either. In amongst the periodical Theresa May-bashing (the play’s timeline finishes before the change of Prime Minister) is a story that almost screams ‘self-indulgence’: she wants to stay in the United Kingdom to fine-tune a play she’s written. She seems always and forever desperate for sympathy, complaining because she must work for a living (for which she gets no pity whatsoever from your reviewer), but then whingeing when she cannot work because the regulations stipulate as such while a visa application is being processed.

The playwright becomes all the more dislikeable when she abuses the system on separate occasions: having explored various ways of getting her visa extended, she then learns that it is possible to be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK if one can prove that one has been a victim of domestic violence. But she isn’t a victim of domestic violence, and so the play is effectively asking whether she is prepared to live with the guilt of having lied if she proceeds with filing for a permanent visa on the basis of (non) abuse.

What used to be called the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) gave her a place to study, but she maintains a cross-border relationship with a young man she met in Spain. Thanks to some nifty European Union legislation, if the boyfriend resettles in the UK, she might just get an extension on her visa. Thankfully (in my view, anyway), the boyfriend isn’t stupid, and eventually sees her ulterior motives, and calls an end to a relationship that was overshadowed by her relentless quest to make it in the British theatre industry. She’s quite intolerable.

Her play (parts of which are dramatized, thus becoming a play within the play) is about a woman from South America who pays a ‘coyote’ (the name given to people smugglers in Mexico and surrounding countries) an extortionate amount of money to be brought into the United States with a view to having a better life. It’s an infinitely more compelling story, not least because it is – without giving everything away – a life and death situation. There are real-life stories, so the play’s epilogue explains, embellished for dramatic effect. It’s to the play’s credit that it gives its audiences this important detail.

There’s some good poetry to enjoy in a show that ebbs and flows in terms of maintaining interest. It’s almost all exposition, however, with few opportunities for the play’s characters to take a step back and calmly think for half a nanosecond about what it is they are doing at any given moment.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

An American artist must decide whether to overstay her visa or give up her chance to become a UK citizen. A Guatemalan graduate must decide whether to make the dangerous trek to America. As their parallel stories intertwine, two young women discover how far they’ll go to get what they need… and who they’ll hurt by becoming illegal. A vibrant narrative poem woven with gripping drama by Jessica Phillippi, featuring music by Simon Liddell.

Underbelly Cowgate (White Belly)
Until 25th August 2019
12:00 (1 hour)


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