Baron’s Court Theatre, London (***)
A soft boiled egg. One of the ordinary little pleasures we take for granted in an every day existence. But what weight it acquires when you’ve been robbed of everything and it becomes the acme of a better life.
Playwright Dermot Dolan’s Calais is probably the first and won’t be the last play to come out of the present refugee crisis. An attempt to focus minds on the humanity of individuals behind the headlines, it’s based on time he spent as a volunteer in the camp.
Staged in the basement of the Curtain Up Pub in West Kensington, it’s a heartfelt, sensitive response to the people he encountered there and as producer is also linked to the Brighton based Calais aid Hummingbird Project .
Based around four Eritreans who have managed to survive beatings, rape and life-threatening journeys across desert and sea, Dolan portrays with great sympathy the damaged lives but undimmed dreams still harboured by Ahmed, Tariq, Faven and Birhan.
Movingly, he shows the cost of survival in the nightmares now consistently suffered by them, the horror of the conditions under which they are now living and the motive that drives them to take even more risks to cross the Channel.
Like Jacques Audiard’s wonderful current film, Dheepan, England is portrayed as an idealised paradise. Two of them, somewhat implausibly, make it to England by swimming the Channel and have now set up the Eritrean cafe they always dreamed of establishing.
Dramatic license maybe, but it fits with Dolan’s main aim of showing why England offers such a tantalising – and probably mistakenly – powerful attraction to those whom desperation has made reckless.
Impossible to capture the squalor of the Calais camp, Grace Ward’s production l still manages to evoke a sense of wretchedness. Those faceless refugee voices too are served especially well by a convincing Michael Oku as Tariq, the young Muslim determined to break out of `the jungle’ and swim to England.
Moe Idris steadily establishes the emotional and mental scars of survival at all costs in his character of Ahmed whilst Linda Gathu provides a formidable portrayal of a young woman who never loses heart or hope.
Calais runs at the Barons Court Theatre to May 8, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate April 2016