There’s something inherently British about a stationmaster, Fret (Ron Cook) announcing that there are no trains from his station until further notice – not until the end of the day, not until Monday morning when the weekend engineering work ceases and the weekday timetable resumes, but possibly forever, as though there has been another Beeching Axe. And don’t ask him about the timetable, either, because he’s given up trying to make any sense of it. Is there anything symbolic about trains no longer stopping here? Why is the railway company keeping Fret on its books if there is essentially nothing for him to do? Now, this isn’t mentioned in the play, but to miss a train in one’s dreams is apparently indicative of missed opportunities, suggesting that one is not as prepared as
one could be for a new phase in their life.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Europe doesn’t do all that well to categorically define what ‘Europe’ means, beyond a geographical continent whose inhabitants are Europeans. It makes suggestions as to what it means for its various characters – one is even called Berlin (Billy Howle), another, a self-confessed international tradesman, goes by Morocco (Shane Zaza). What I suppose could be termed refugees (the play goes for “economic migrants”), Sava (Kevork Malikyan) and his daughter Katia (Natalia Tena), are taking shelter in the waiting room of the railway station, and the sound design (Ian Dickinson) comes into its own when Fret makes repeated announcements over the Tannoy, with increasing levels of aggression, making clear that there are no trains to wait for, so waiting – albeit in the waiting room – is futile.
Local lads Berlin, Horse (Theo Barklem-Biggs) and Billy (Stephen Wight) become increasingly hostile to the visitors. Berlin’s wife Adele (Faye Marsay), the assistant stationmaster, befriends Katia to great effect, but in the end, nobody in this production is particularly likeable, and the whole thing has a rather miserable and defeatist feel about it. There were people in the audience at the performance I attended that took their seats for the first half but not for the second, and I am sorry to report that I can’t blame them.
There are, however, some interesting observations, for instance about what it is that makes some people leave ‘home’ for somewhere else whilst others remain and stick it out where they are. The portrayals of people from outside as being, in effect, people who roam around not really doing anything with their lives, is not particularly helpful, nor is the portrayal of locals as yobs without jobs.
The lighting (Tom Visser) works very well to portray the passing of express trains through the station – though, technically, the show could have been better blocked to consider where the train tracks would be reasonably expected to be.
At some point, the penny dropped for your reviewer – the station itself is an image of Europe, a micro version of it, where the locals are frustrated because there’s a perception that their livelihoods are being taken away by others who have come from other places, undercutting the wages they would be prepared to work for. At the same time, the incoming migrants, escaping war and persecution (and so on) are treated poorly.
Perhaps we really have reached the point where parliamentary proceedings with regards to Europe make for entertainment so good that the entertainment industry struggles to compete. This play raises issues that have been in the public arena ever since That Referendum, and so this production, powerful as it is, doesn’t tell discerning audiences anything new – and it doesn’t offer any solutions.
It doesn’t have to, of course, and one could envisage all sorts of problems with implementing suggested proposals in the real world. The production plods along steadily enough, but it’s the set (Chloe Lamford) that eventually, and quite literally, gives the show some fire. And it is, admittedly, quite a thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This is what a border is. A magic money line.
Something changed today. The trains are no longer stopping at the station on the border and no one knows why. Plus, the stationmaster suddenly has two new arrivals to deal with. Arrivals that will divide the local population.
This prophetic early masterpiece from David Greig explores our complex relationship to Europe – as a continent, a refuge, an idea.
Michael Longhurst directs the 25th-anniversary revival as his inaugural production as Artistic Director of the Donmar.
This production is supported by the John Browne Charitable Trust.
Theo Barklem-Biggs (Horse)
Ron Cook (Fret)
Billy Howle (Berlin)
Kevork Malikyan (Sava)
Faye Marsay (Adele)
Natalia Tena (Katia)
Stephen Wight (Billy)
Shane Zaza (Morocco)
Writer David Greig
Director Michael Longhurst
Designer Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer Tom Visser
Sound Designer Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Composer Simon Slater
Movement Director Imogen Knight
Fight Director Bret Yount
Casting Director Anna Cooper CDG