The Crossing Plays

Andreas Flourakis and Fausto Paravidino
A House on Fire project with Royal Court Theatre and LIFT
Royal Court Theatre

These short plays, presented in a double bill, were commissioned from two writers, respectively from Greece and Italy, as part of LIFT 2016’s On the Move, a collection of work responding to the stories of people forced to leave their homes, dealing here with the arrival of huge numbers of refugees on the shores of Greek islands and of Sicily and the response in those countries.

The Things You Take With You by Flourakis (translated by Alexi Kaye Campbell) presents Greek reactions. The first voice is one who would reject them and leave them to their fate, others are more compassionate. Some seek ways to exploit them as cheap labour for jobs Greeks don’t want, people to contribute to the economy whose taxes will help pay off Greece’s debts.

Its main theme picks up on the rumour that Greeks have stolen from migrants’ possessions, from the baggage cast up on their shores. One man admits to doing it, finding bundles of money carefully wrapped up in plastic to keep it dry. Others simply inspect this sad flotsam, providing thereby some insight into just who these individuals are.

There are personal photographs, private letters, baseball caps, children’s toys, things from which they could not bear to be parted. Every bag, every suitcase seems to have one thing in common, a set of house keys, the house to which they hope one day to return.

This isn’t presented prosaically with actual objects. A line of baggage is laid down the centre of director Richard Twyman’s traverse staging and from each bag a list is extracted and read out by an actor, or sometimes passed to an audience member to read some or all of it, an imaginative leap involving everyone in this intrusion on the private, its emphasis on our shared humanity.

This is a play of the utmost simplicity that packs a big punch full of feeling and beautifully played by the actors Kurt Egyiawan, Susannah Fielding, Sirine Saba and Tim Steed.

Three Migrants by Paravidino (translated by Gillian Hanna) begins with three migrants almost drowning as their boat sinks off the shore of Sicily. One (Fisayo Akinade) is going under but two others (Kurt Egyiawan and Abraham Popoola) struggle to get him ashore. He is lucky to be alive—they all are—but, though thankful, the little one declares he is immortal: his mother cast a spell so that bullets, knives, indeed nothing can kill him.

They’ve made the crossing and the Red Cross is there to help them; there are foil wraps to keep them warm but no food or drink yet. They must line up first and do things properly. The Red Cross person explains how they must give their names, where they come from and so forth to the police but warns them that if that don’t want to claim asylum in Italy but travel on they must not answer the police questions.

This is a play about failure, not of empathy but of understanding, about arrivals who have almost no knowledge of where they have come to, agreeing with everything that is said to them though comprehending almost nothing and a “host” country that knows just as little about what they have come from.

Whatever politicians may agree to, what schemes they may devise, this is a picture of what it is like for those it is happening to, both those desperate to cross to Europe and those who then have to deal with them.

These plays aren’t about international agreements, the aid budget or what refugees are fleeing from: they give a vivid picture of what it is like on the ground. This is theatre that makes you feel that you’ve got your feet wet, whether clambering up the beach or reaching out a hand from the rocks.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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