Going Through passes along smoothly and of silently. But don’t mistake silence for softness.
Told by Nadia Nadarajah and Charmaine Wombwell, as Nour and Youmna respectively, in a combination of French Sign Language, speech, writing and sound, Going Through is a play about child trafficking, family, motherhood and childhood. On the face of it, a pretty gruelling 75 minutes, but the beauty, happiness and hope with which it is told make this a beautiful experience.
We aren’t told when it’s set. Nor when. This, combined with the simple, mobile set (designed by Rajha Shakiry), gives the story a somewhat timeless, universal character. Whenever and wherever you are, family, growing up and (sadly) the patriarchy are things every(wo)man can relate to.
Nour has brought Youmna up all her life, and they communicate via sign, an increasingly common feature of London theatre. The expressive gestures and facial expressions only serve to enrich the storytelling element of this narrative. The script is simple but confident, relying on simple repetition and recurrent phrases to tell a story which, despite travelling thousands of miles, retains a sense of singularity and simplicity.
Youmna has to travel away to meet her long lost mother. For the journey, she has to pretend to be a boy, because “it’s not always children’s stories that happen to children”. The subtlety of this line, which says so much in so little (without being overly allusive) is emblematic of the composure and strength of Estelle Savasta’s script. When she arrives in a foreign land, she faces the imperious opposition of police officers, security guards and state officials. Here, the set takes on a Berkoffian appearance, suggesting the bureaucratic travails of Joseph K.
She becomes a midwife, shifting from the face of a modern Bildungsroman to one among many, as the play takes on a more explicitly political edge. Her journey to the promised land ends in exhausting work, with few rewards. She happens upon a patient, a mother-to-be, who can only speak in Sign and they enter motherhood together.
Nour appears upstage and they mime one of the rituals they’ve repeated since childhood. It is here, in the circularity of mother and daughter, check-in and discharge, migrant emigrant that the truth of being ‘traversee’ comes through. The English translation of Going Through doesn’t quite capture the sense that we are all suspended between points, ‘traversing’ different places, times, identities and nationalities. These diverse themes are confidently and smoothly conjured in a sense with barely more than a couple of words. A beautiful piece of theatre and storytelling.
Review by Thomas Froy
Youmna is deaf. She’s been looking after Nour since she was born. But when the men come to drive Nour away, Youmna cuts off her hair. And so begins one girl’s journey. By bus, by lorry, into the sound of gun-shots, through adolescence and across borders. All she can take with her is a little box and her memories of Youmna. Youmna, who told her that everything grows back – grass, desires, branches, even hair.
A story that continues to dominate the international news agenda, Going Through tells a familiar story through new eyes.
by Estelle Savasta
directed by Omar Elerian
28 Mar – 27 Apr 2019
7 Uxbridge Road
London W12 8LJ