The Container

Clare Bayley
Young Vic

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If you manage to get a ticket for Clare Bayley's The Container - and with a capacity of just 28 per performance, that'll make you part of a fairly exclusive group - first check the weather forecast, and pray for rain.

Staged in a freight container parked outside the Young Vic, The Container simulates the experience of illegal immigration aboard a long-haul lorry. Inside it's pitch dark and smells slightly musty (avoid this production if you're claustrophobic or afraid of the dark).

The whole space rumbles and vibrates to create a convincing illusion of movement, the result of designer Naomi Dawson and sound designer Adrienne Quartly's combined technical efforts. That vibration creeps into your body, through the floor and the uncomfortable wooden crates that serve as seats, and sets your guts squirming.

Compound the rumbling and mustiness and darkness with heavy rain, rattling relentlessly on the container's roof and sides, and the word 'tense' begins to sound woefully inadequate. The sound of rain makes the space feel even smaller, and requires the cast to raise their voices, which has a much greater effect in a metal box than it would have on stage.

It's also a constant reminder of how hostile the outside world is to the characters, all of whom are braving unscrupulous traffickers and European police to escape war, oppression and refugee camps. The door is locked from the outside, forcing the characters - and the audience - to trust sporadic reports from a threatening Agent (Chris Spyrides) concerned more with putting one over on the authorities than with their wellbeing.

The Container is deserving of its Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award simply for its lateral-thinking approach to altering British perceptions of asylum seekers. Rather than try to release immigrants from their pigeonhole, the play puts the British public right in there with them.

Until 30 July

Reviewer: Matt Boothman

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