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Ķīn created by Amit Lahav at the National Theatre

It is only in the closing moments of the show that anyone says anything decipherable. Otherwise, as the freesheet puts it, “Often the spoken language is the performer’s mother tongue”, and the dialogue is not subtitled. While it is possible to decipher that someone is happy, or indeed distinctly unhappy, it would be good to know precisely what they were satisfied or vexed about. But perhaps that is what the production wants to tell its audiences – anybody moving anywhere without being conversant in the common language of where they’re moving to is going to face significant challenges.

Gecko Company: Kin on Tour. Photo by Mark Sepple.
Gecko Company: Kin on Tour. Photo by Mark Sepple.

The problem with interpretative dance to demonstrate the messiness and frustrations involved in fleeing persecution, or war, or destitution (or all of those things, and more) is that it’s almost too pretty. Gloriously choreographed, at least one thing is crystal clear – the enthusiasm and passion the cast (or, rather, the ‘devising performers’) have for the show, in which they are able to demonstrate their considerable dancing ability and agility. The slick and smooth movements, however, are at significant variance from the narrative, which detracts somewhat from one’s enjoyment of the stage action.

The show makes extensive use of the stage revolve, indicative of how things are constantly changing and spinning around, sometimes rapidly, sometimes painstakingly slowly. Not wanting to get too specific about certain atrocities, either current or historical, the production focuses on the journey, both literally and figuratively, to get to a place of relative safety. The audience is therefore spared the exact backstories, as though it should prove sufficient to a British audience that whatever problems the UK is facing at the moment, it’s still a better place to be than wherever these performers came from.

Some people are permitted to board what I think was a ship, others were not, and the experiences of one family attempting to get away from danger suggested they stood a better chance if they dressed smarter, rather like defendants going to court dressing up to make a good impression. Indeed, refugees and migrants, as portrayed in this production, are treated as though they were criminals – one man is taken aside and has it explained to him what he needs to do to gain safe passage (I got the impression a visa wasn’t going to be sufficient, and certain bribes needed to be paid out). Others, however, are not only turned away, but savagely beaten.

Ultimately, though, the show doesn’t say anything new. I would have thought it would be common knowledge that people who uproot their lives completely and try to make a new life for themselves somewhere else don’t have it easy. Of course, some (well, all right, quite a lot) of the rhetoric from the Government of the day doesn’t exactly help. A scene with people in lifejackets on a boat was particularly harrowing following recent news of migrants dying in their attempt to cross the English Channel.

But otherwise, the stage was rather too dark at times, and I found myself working harder than I wanted to in order to try to work out what was happening, until I frankly stopped bothering. That said, I was wowed by the performances even if I didn’t feel engaged with the issues the production was bringing to the audience’s attention. In other words, it’s a good show, and an enjoyable one – but given what it was meant to be about, it ought to have been more emotive and thought-provoking.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

We exist both where we’ve come from and where we’re going

In 1932, Leah and her family escaped persecution and embarked on a journey from Yemen to Palestine.

Ninety years later, her grandson Amit Lahav (Artistic Director of Gecko) reflects on the life-changing decision his family made to flee and build a better life.

This powerful piece by acclaimed physical theatre company Gecko is a provocative story of desperation, compassion and acceptance, inspired by the migration stories of Gecko’s international performers and the extraordinary voyage Leah undertook as a young child.

Ķīn
created by Amit Lahav
a Gecko Production
in association with the National Theatre
supported by HOME Manchester, Lighthouse Poole and London International Mime Festival
Until 27 January 2024
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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