One Who Wants to Cross

Marc-Emmanuel Soriano translated by Amanda Gann
Clarisse Makundul Productions
Finborough Theatre

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Ola Teniola and Wisdom Iheoma Credit: Ali Wright
Wisdom Iheoma and Ola Teniola Credit: Ali Wright

Marc-Emmanuel Soriano’s play One Who Wants to Cross (Un Qui Veut Traverser), first performed in France, is essentially a lyrical monologue with the occasional briefest contribution from a second character. There is a mood of melancholy, and many of the things said in the piece can feel like a form of mourning for the plight of those so desperate they are trying to move across borders.

We never see or hear about those who control the borders, the politicians who are ready to swiftly welcome anyone with wealth. Instead, this is a glimpse of those forced to endure terrible journeys that include en route being robbed by soldiers, perhaps sleeping on cold beaches waiting for transport and forced to persuade ruthless people smugglers to give them a cramped spot on a boat that is little more than a floating, overcrowded coffin.

Two men stand or sit either side of the traverse set with its central raised triangle reminiscent of the bow of a boat, the stones lining its side conjuring up the sense of a beach. The men are never clearly identified and neither are the people that our narrator, the actor Wisdom Iheoma, describes in terms that, like the title of the play, emphasise their anonymous isolation. They are simply “one who gets into a boat” or “one who sleeps by the jetty”.

Rarely does the narrator focus on anyone. There is a heavy remoteness to the fragmented account. When a particular body is given more space, it is to the woman found dead by fellow travellers in the boat carrying them to an unknown destination. They make an intimate search of the body before sliding her body into the sea.

There is rarely anything positive about the people described. The play's sympathies are with the migrants, but the people smugglers are cold, ominous and at times even menacing. The only journalist to appear in the narrative can tell you how to make a stack of money on smuggling. He knows because he does it.

The migrant who arrives somewhere says such things as, “I am a puddle… I am a feast for a bug… I am a President’s heel.”

Despite its fine poetic evocation of vulnerable people, the play is not easy to follow. Its meaning can be lost in the poetry, in the metaphors, in the anonymity of the characters and scenes. The fractured journey of the migrants is also a fractured narrative held together not by a single story but by a theme and a mood. As a poetic testament to those who suffer, it might work better as a poem on the page, to be read, reflected on and mulled over rather than the spoken monologue of a single actor.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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