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Evros | The Crossing River

Devised by the company
Seemia Theatre
The Vaults

It is a major achievement of our time that the UNHCR is able to report “that the number of displaced people has now reached the largest number ever recorded.” They point out that in effect “20 people are newly displaced every minute of the day.”

Yet the misery and horror this displacement involves is only vaguely understood.

Seemia Theatre’s play Evros | The Crossing River takes us to a war-torn community and follows the circumstances leading to some of its residents becoming refugees and the difficulties of their flight to safety.

Using just costumes and minimal props, they perform mostly in-the-round with occasional moments between the rows of audience benches.

Those benches in the Vault Festival Cavern felt as if they had been dredged up from the depths of the ocean. They were so wet you could imagine sitting in a cold bath.

We see families trying to live ordinary lives. Children are shown happily playing till the food runs out and someone has to risk going out for eggs amidst the cruelty of mortar shells fired into civilian areas.

The place is probably Syria but it might be the Yemen or South Sudan, Columbia or perhaps even parts of the Ukraine.

A woman, seeking a doctor to help her father who is suffering a heart problem, finds walking nearby a junior doctor on his way to a hospital. Their contact over time grows into something romantic.

A man en route to planting an olive tree is suddenly deafened by an explosion. Looking behind him, he sees the horrific consequences of that explosion.

The decision some make to escape the daily terror is not an easy one as families are split and the journey is hard.

A small child loses his younger sister in the crowded panic of a group of refugees. A young woman’s sea journey involves many changes of boats and being abandoned with hundreds of others in a flimsy boat by people smugglers who had made over a million dollars in that one trip.

Their boat is then damaged by another vessel containing men who hurl abuse at them.

Even safe arrival somewhere that might offer refuge has the problems of being interviewed by officials and being shouted at in the streets.

The scenes are brief and emblematic. We never get to know much about the characters or hear any particularly imaginative dialogue.

However, the show is interspersed with very moving singing and some visually striking dance sequences. There is a repeated march in which people throw up their arms as if being thrown backwards by an explosion. In one scene a woman carries on her back her dying husband.

News outlets today report another ninety people have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach the safety of Europe. It is a story that will be repeated many times until Europe changes its restrictive policies. This play reminds us why it is so important to change those policies.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna