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Review of The Sleeper at The Space, London

The Sleeper
The Sleeper

Part-way through The Sleeper, the action comes to a rather abrupt halt. Sarah Agha’s Amena breaks character and asks even more questions than the play’s narrative, as it stood, was already asking. Michelle Fahrenheim’s Karina thus breaks character, as does Joshua Jacob’s George. The discussion at this point has some interest, particularly in a multicultural metropolitan area like London, where so many different nationalities and cultures co-exist.

The play appears to interrupt itself to state that everything that had been performed up to that point has deficiencies. In some respects, it shows a degree of levelheadedness and self-analysis that could, for some, be deemed admirable. For me, however, it has a ‘work in progress’ feel about it, and the (scripted) discussions come across as the sort of rigorous debate that should have taken place before the production was put on stage for the benefit of the paying public. This feeling of ‘was that really necessary?’ is compounded by the ‘decision’ to pursue an alternative storyline, which isn’t, in the end, all that superior to the previous one – Amena is in no less danger than she was before the play’s mid-life crisis.

‘Amena’ calls out the play for being an expression of white privilege, where ‘Karina’ saves the day, stepping in where her assistance was not requested. Amena, a political refugee, apparently can’t be left alone to try to make her own way to wherever it is she is going, so Busybody White Woman must make a big song and dance about Amena, drawing the attention of the manager of this cross-border sleeper (hence the play’s title) train service. George goes as far as slowly and deliberately asking Karina if she is, in all seriousness, asking for him to deal with Amena; he could, you see, turn a blind eye. Karina, naïve with a capital N (or just plain intellectually challenged), insists she does.

Character development could have been better. Amena spends a lot of time not answering questions from George and Karina – to be fair, a language barrier is as good a reason as any. There is, late on in proceedings, a rather sudden burst of monologue, delivered so quickly and devoid of emotion that I found it difficult to maintain interest. But we learn little about George other than that he’s a train manager who simply wants to ensure that every person on his train has a valid ticket for their journey. We learn little about Karina other than – well, she’s a passenger with a said valid ticket on George’s train. What is it specifically that drives Karina to try to help someone she has deemed to be in a vulnerable position? I can’t say, not because I don’t want to give too much away (although I don’t), but because I just don’t know.

Seeing the same event rolled out, in different versions, was a little tedious. The show is divided into five ‘parts’, one of which is even titled ‘Nothing To See Here’. There is some food for thought, but this production seems more about the first world problems of railway revenue and all-too-tight on-board overnight accommodation than it does about Amena, and the many, many people like her. It’s well acted, but I can’t help thinking there was a missed opportunity to include a more overt political discussion, or else different journeys of different characters, rather than the same one throughout with only (ultimately) superficial variations. A good effort, though, from a cast that does remarkably well with what they are given.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Dark, haunting and unusual, this production hones in on a situation familiar to the thousands of refugees, those who become stuck in a kind of purgatory – somewhere between leaving home and finding a new one. Enveloped in the tension that exists between absolute strangers, these characters hope the less they reveal about themselves the less obvious their differences become. But do we need to be moved in order to help someone, and how do we choose the people we care for?

Dates / Time / Venue / Price
The Space, London
3 – 14 April, 2018

Rialto, Brighton Fringe
5 – 7 May, 2018

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1 thought on “Review of The Sleeper at The Space, London”

  1. I saw this later in the run at The Space in London. It certainly did not seem ‘work in progress’ to me. Perhaps still a few rough edges, but overall I thought very good ensemble work. The ‘flip’ in the play (I do not want to give too much away, either) I thought really worked well. Given the political nature of the topic, the performers and the writer have done really well to create a piece that goes beyond the headlines to drill down to the individual characters. The show packs far more than its 60-70min running time suggests, and I mean that in a positive way. I felt that I had taken a journey, too.

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