Arts Review: Lampedusa

Dir. Jack Nurse, Citizens Theatre, 8-18 November

Some of the pitfalls of political theatre are that it can easily become preaching to the converted or remain a part of an establishment, a system which is at the same time opposing the content of the performance. Especially the former is a danger in Lampedusa, taking the form of twin monologues by people who seem to be in very different situations. Stefano, a fisherman from Lampedusa (Andy Clark) speaks in poetic language about the sea, the water, the weather and, more matter-of-factly, the drowned bodies that he fishes out of the ‘blue desert’ every day. Chinese-British Denise (Louise Mai Newberry) works for a pay-day loan company while doing a degree in Leeds, and tells us about the economic hardship, the racism, the systems that ‘fuck you over’ in the “beloved land” so many people risk everything for.

According to director Jack Nurse one of the reasons to perform the play was the racial prejudice and continuing prevalence of misperception about refugees. Yet even when Stefano is pacing the space angrily, resenting the migrants for their hope, asking “why us?” and “why do they keep coming and keep dying?”, even when he is burying a tiny, blue shoe in the sand that covers the whole stage, I can’t help but think – why are you telling this to me? I already agree with you. I wonder how much of that racial prejudice will be changed with a play like this targeting a specific audience. Yet when Anders Lustgarten wrote the play, in late 2014, no one was really talking about the then largely unnoticed migrant crisis. Lampedusa has thus gone from a powerful play that was informing people about the world, to a play about an issue everybody is already all too aware of.  

That doesn’t mean that Lampedusa, performed in the intimate circle Studio of the Citizens Theatre, is not powerful. It simply functions on another level. Rather than being purely political, it works emotionally. These emotions are powerfully enhanced from the corner of the room in which Stuart Rampage performs beautiful, atmospheric, and powerful live music. As the plot unfolds, the connection between the two stories becomes clearer. But what stands out are the acts of human kindness and hope. When something is in the headlines a lot, it can lose its human value, even for those of us who care a lot. Yet in Lampedusa, the universality of emotions like fear, hope, and compassion are shared, so that the stories connected to something deep inside me.

[Aike Jansen] 

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