The latest production at the intimate Finborough Theatre boasts a visually striking set designed by Sarah Beaton on a traverse stage, with the audience therefore on opposite sides facing each other: a long shiny metallic sloping triangle surrounded by a white floor on which is carefully placed large pebbles that one might find on a beach. This is evocatively and subtly lit by Jamie Platt with effective music and sound by Daniel Balfour, giving this sixty-minute play every chance to succeed.
“In the water now, up to the waist, there are some who struggle to walk, staying upright as best they can, holding what’s left of their belongings, clinging to one another, like soldiers returning from battle…..”
Marc-Emmanuel Soriano’s play, translated from the French by Amanda Gann, is one of the few plays I have come across that tries to explain why millions of people all over the world are trying to leave the country in which they were born and move elsewhere. It is a “dramatic meditation on migrants, wherever their place of origin” according to the theatre’s publicity.
Indeed, it is much more a meditation than a play that tells a story, consisting of many short scenes which juxtapose, often seeming to make little sense until much later when one has been given more information. Only two actors are involved, Wisdom Iheama as ‘Narrator’ and Ola Teniola as ‘Musician Performer’. Teniola has a beautifully clear speaking voice and, like Iheama, is onstage throughout the play, but has little to say and nothing at all to sing or play musically, so the reason behind the title of his role is unclear.
The Nigerian-born Wisdom Iheama has undertaken a tremendous feat of learning, as he speaks for almost the whole duration of the play, describing and commenting on what he can see, and what is going on. He occasionally has a duologue with Teniola, but most of the time is just ‘narrating’. In fact, this play seems tailor-made for radio, as we gain little from being able to see the actors, rather than just letting our imaginations do the work.
The traverse stage works against the actors – whenever they turn to one side of the audience, the other side finds it difficult to hear, especially as Iheama’s enunciation is not always clear – for example my colleague and I both failed to hear the last few lines of the play!
Alice Hamilton’s direction seems to need more light and shade, more variety of pace, and, somehow, to be more intimate. It does not feel as engaging as it should, but it is certainly a play that makes the audience work and concentrate on the plight of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in general.
Review by John Groves
‘‘In the water now up to the waist, there are some who struggle to walk, staying upright as best they can, holding what’s left of their belongings, clinging to one another, like soldiers returning from battle…”
Directed by Alice Hamilton.
Set and Costume Design by Sarah Beaton. Lighting Design by Jamie Platt. Sound by Daniel Balfour.
Presented by Clarisse Makundul Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Cast: Wisdom Iheoma. Ola Teniola.
ONE WHO WANTS TO CROSS (Un Qui Veut Traverser)
by Marc-Emmanuel Soriano
Translated by Amanda Gann
Tuesday, 31 January 2023 – Saturday, 25 February 2023