With news of Theresa May’s deliberately misleading figures surrounding international students and immigration breaking this week and the anti-refugee/migrant sentiment surrounding Brexit still strong, Phosphoros Theatre’s return to the Fringe is very appropriate. Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending may be a rather tongue-in-cheek title – giving a nod to both its sequel status and the Home Office’s famous delays in processing asylum claims – but the lives it depicts (and explores deftly) face real challenges completely unfamiliar to those with settled or citizen status. Intimate, naturalistic, and with an agenda only to educate, this piece shows the everyday realities of coming of age in an uncertain homeland with grace, humour, and truth.
The young men on stage – all asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Somalia, Albania, and Syria – play rough versions of themselves, with Phosphoros Theatre artistic director Kate Duffy playing herself from her time as the Family Services Manager at the connected London-based refugee support organisation. They change names, perform each other’s stories, and blend fact with realistic fiction to create a compelling, understated portrait of ordinary people caught in extraordinary, frustrating circumstances. The struggles faced span from the normal ones of youth – finding a place to stay, flirting with a girlfriend, selecting college courses, and finding a job – to ones less commonly experienced: supporting family in war-torn countries and processing legal claim after expensive legal claim for asylum. The juxtaposition is not forced, making it all the more unsettling and striking.
This is not a ‘showy’ piece; the set is minimal, the dialogue naturalistic to an extreme, and the events depicted in a statically true-to-life fashion. The consequent effect is a window into these lives, a glimpse at unpolished reality experienced by the performers and their fellows. This storytelling does not aim for pathos or mawkishness; instead, it allows the facts of the refugees’ struggles to speak without commentary. By not aiming to elicit any audience response, it strengthens their connection to the material and therefore the overall impact of the narratives.
If the relevant societal condition did not exist, this play would never have come into being; therefore, it is impossible to separate the show from young migrants’ circumstances under the current Home Office’s policies and practices. The governmental side is not explored in detail, and while the piece explores only the asylum seekers’ experiences it does not feel overtly judgemental or blame-seeking. However, the callousness with which their situations are met by the media, social work, and Home Office and the straightforward, everyday way in which these are depicted is a powerful choice: in such quietly desperate circumstances, external commentary is unnecessary. By refusing to sensationalise the underage refugees’ struggles, Phosphoros Theatre strengthens its credentials and impact.
If looking to fill the last afternoon at the Fringe Festival with excellent theatre of testimony about one of modern Britain’s (and indeed the world’s) most pressing issue, Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending is a strong choice. One hopes to see Phosphoros Theatre return to the Fringe in future years.
Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending plays at Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue 14) until today, 27th August, at 14.30. Tickets are £10 (£9 for concessions). For information and tickets, go to the Edinburgh Fringe website. Phosphoros Theatre and their initiatives supporting unaccompanied refugee minors can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Performed by Phosphoros Theatre
Cast: Abdul, Arjan, Awet, Emirjon, Goitom, Jordy, Mohamed, Sied, Syed, Teddy, Waheed
Artistic Directors: Kate Duffy, Dawn Harrison, Rosanna Jahangard
Writer: Dawn Harrison
Directors: Dawn Harrison, Rosanna Jahangard
Technical Direction: Juliet Styles
Production Manager: Liam Duffy
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