Decades ago, I stumbled on a film that was broadcast on television – it might have been one of those films that went on for so long on ITV that there would be a pause for ‘News at Ten’ after which it would continue. The only memorable thing about it was a dystopian future in which American citizens were trying to get into Mexico because the tables had turned and life was relatively better, but partly in retaliation for many years of American aggression towards Mexican citizens trying to get across to the United States, the Mexican government had closed their borders to US citizens, resulting in pandemonium.
A broadly similar situation appears to have arisen in this play, although it isn’t quite clear where the characters are headed. A human trafficker, The Burly One (Felix Garcia Guyer) has told The Beautiful One (Yasmine Haller) they are bound for Australia, but he’s told The Tall One (Will Bishop) they are headed for Japan, and The Stocky One (Marco Young, also the translator of this Italian play) they are headed for Venezuela. Europe as it was once known has become, in this dystopian future, for reasons not made entirely clear, an unviable place to make a living. Retraining in cyber, or indeed anything else, isn’t going to cut it – there’s a need to escape entirely and start a new life elsewhere.
Be that as it may, The Stocky One has some money, albeit not in liquid assets, and The Tall One, it later transpires, has plenty, and even The Beautiful One had enough to pay the trafficker a substantial non-refundable deposit, with more to be paid on arrival at their destination. But at the risk of overanalysing the question ‘how did they get here?’, it seems bizarre that people with such financial means would seek to get away from Europe in this manner, in a shipping container, even if they have their reasons for getting away (seemingly) undetected by the authorities.
The Burly One has, we are told, been reading things online, with a particular interest in Wikipedia articles. A direct address to the audience, using a microphone for some unknown reason (the studio performance space seats ninety at capacity), provides some interesting context to shipping containers, which I initially thought was indicative of the sort of conversations people have to pass the time on long journeys. But it was difficult to reconcile some of the other monologues with the storyline – at one point he recites a recipe for what is presumably a favoured dish of his.
There are some very convincing fight scenes in the closing moments of the show, though it is the end result (alas, to say what it is would be giving too much away) that drew some gasps from an unassuming press night audience. The show’s critical incident results in some resourcefulness from The Stocky One but eventually their situation and plight becomes increasingly bleak and desperate, and in turn the level of absurdity cranks up accordingly. A committed cast brings an unwieldy script to life, and while the blurry lines between reality and fiction were intriguing, the show is ultimately a little too ambitious, trying too hard to draw laughs out of unpleasant circumstances.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s the near future and Europe has failed. A domino effect of nationalist, isolationist policies has left the continent’s economies on the brink of collapse, and citizens of the countries who closed their borders to immigrants are forced to flee across the seas.
In a claustrophobic shipping container, three unnamed travellers place their lives at the mercy of a mysterious people-smuggler. Forced to exist on the brink between civility and chaos, they pray that they will reach their destination. And yet there are natural – and human – forces at work which are far beyond their control.
This darkly comic, absurdist, and political piece offers us a refracted story of European migration – asking us how well we would fare if we were forced to make a perilous journey across the sea, and what lengths we would go to in order to survive.
Riva Theatre and The Playwright’s Laboratory in association with Park Theatre present
Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea
By Emanuele Aldrovandi
Translated by Marco Young
Directed by Daniel Emery
THE TALL ONE | WILL BISHOP
THE BURLY ONE | FELIX GARCIA GUYER
THE BEAUTIFUL ONE | YASMINE HALLER
THE STOCKY ONE | MARCO YOUNG
WRITER | EMANUELE ALDROVANDI
TRANSLATOR | MARCO YOUNG
DIRECTOR | DANIEL EMERY
PRODUCER | KATHARINE FARMER
SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER | ALYS WHITEHEAD
SOUND DESIGNER AND CREATIVE ASSOCIATE | JAMIE LU
LIGHTING DESIGNER | CATJA HAMILTON
STAGE MANAGER | NELL THOMAS
Plays: Wed 13 – Sat 30 Sep