Footprints in the Sand
For One Night Only by Oladipo Agboluaje and Letting Go by Rukhsana Ahmad
Pursued by a Bear Productions in association with Farnham Maltings and Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud
Oval House and touring
Footprints in the Sand is double bill of short plays performed by three actors which try to give you some insight into the plight of refugees and asylum seekers to the UK.
The first piece, Letting Go, set in Dover, is steeped in reality: On a set is that is a simple square floor surrounded by African sculptures and sand, Abbas (Valentine Hassan), a young asylum seeker, spends his evenings standing on the pier, looking at the sea, waiting expectantly. He recalls the DARE games he used to play as a child such as "Who can hold their breadth longest in the water?"
His story emerges gradually; he's arrived from Liberia, via Cairo, and was separated from his brother on the way. What occurred during the journey is really the nub of his sadness and although it's not hard to guess what happened, you cannot help but be moved by the lengths individuals go to in order to survive.
Intercut with this is his tentative relationship with the perky Prem (Paven Virk), an Asian woman who teaches English and also has her own secrets. Virk really shines here, and there is a lovely understated moment when she attempts to flirt with Abbas who has got a part time job to paint the wall of her front room in white, while she prefers yellow.
The third actor, Tosin Olomowewe, doubles up as a homeless stranger and a Nigerian Fixer, who has managed to survive and thrive in UK as a general gofer for new arrivals.
The writer, Ahmad, has steered away from polemic and endeavoured to draw us into the characters and humanize a community that is either demonized or unheard.
For One Night Only by Oladipo Agboluaje, is more hyper-reality and the two guys really come into their own in this piece which is more for the boys, while Virk is the "item extra".
Again the set is a simple floor with a "magic box" at the centre that becomes many things as required: a hamburger van, a train, a shelter from the rain, passport control -- you name it.
This is more comedy in the absurd style where our two young men, this time on false passports - purporting to be brothers with the word "Hinduja" in their surname - don't ask me why, dream of performing in "Covent Garden", but I have the distinct impression that they mean the Piazza rather than the Opera House.
It's an extremely energetic roller coaster ride as we follow our fellow travellers, Eddie (Hassan) and Bode (Olomowewe), as they try to come down to London from somewhere on the South Coast. The story is familiar: you had a contact in the UK who promises to help but never materializes; you have to lie to family back home as they think the streets are paved with gold (while you are really homeless) and wait for remittances, but it comes across so engagingly.
The writer touches satirically on "multiculturalism" when our guys are employed to be performers at a community centre, and need an Indian dancer, to complete their act. Here ensues the most hilarious scene of this show: a rendition of an iconic Bollywood number - the song "Monica" from the 1971 film, Caravan. This sexy cabaret scene -- was originally performed by Helen, "Queen of the Nautch Girls" -- as a Merchant-Ivory documentary described her -- is worth seeing, but I wouldn't advise the cast to give up the day job just yet!
Footprints in the Sand, does a good job at entertaining audiences as well as getting the message of the marginalised across, and leaves you wondering if one should more.
Up to May 3 at Oval House Theatre @ 7.45pm; The Mill Studio; Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Thur 8 - Fri 9 May @ 8pm
Reviewer: Suman Bhuchar