The stage design for One Who Wants To Cross is commanding on a variety of levels. Imaginatively designed by Sarah Beaton, she creates a wedge like shape surrounded by a white surface covering both floor and wall, giving the impression of sands and certainly allowing for a sense of perspective. This wedge (a transverse staging) this boat-prow shape has a mirror like reflective covering (on sides and surface) and this allows for reflection; of stones, feet, legs, the dark ceiling, all giving a sense of infinity. Then, theatrically, it allows our boat people to be shadows on the wall, reflecting their shape, indistinct but ever present.
Sound design, by Daniel Balfour helps with this ebbing and flowing sea atmosphere with quiet noise both human and elemental. This all helps set the changing scenes and supports a text that is essentially narration by one main performer. Certainly, there are times when character is suggested but this is inconsistent and not always clear. Direction by Alice Hamilton is busy, in order to bring life to the narration, but it often confuses and seems to be at odds with setting or action. There is little suggestion of the difference between land and sea, wet and dry, hot or cold. The seeing of land in the distance and the toppling of the boat is certainly atmospheric at times but it lacks a high sense of drama where loss, exhaustion, disappointment, and elation could thrill and scare but, as it is essentially reported, such moments are somewhat deflated.
The content of the play written by Marc-Emmanuel Soriano with translation by Amanda Gann is certainly worthy as it chronicles the possibilities of the desperate journeymen; migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, the dispossessed and even the bandits who wrangle and switch and change their minds at every turn. At times they offer hope of a passage to a new life and at other times they are simply manipulating the market – the sad trouble is the market is human cargo. Soriano, indulges in the narration, it is a reportage style of theatre where repetition, ellipses, rhetorical questions, fact and figures plain and undisguised, inform us all – but they do not move us. I appreciate he has fused the myriad migrants using the indefinite pronoun repeatedly, switching it to work as an adjective or a noun and that captures the many types who want to cross to a safer land, but it is an overused device that I felt disengaged the listener and this powerful recount of those in peril of the sea was reduced by the semantics.
The staging was not always helpful to the performers as at times they directed their speeches to one side of the auditorium or the other and clarity of speech was not always sharp. The Narrator was played by Wisdom Iheamo with real sensitivity. However, the narration is long and vocally challenging, a greater vocal dexterity was needed at times to indicate passing of time, character, conflict and even resolution. It is a powerful story, and it seems a pity there were not more characters to tell it. Supported by a fisherman/boatman, Ola Teniola had splendid focus and a certain intensity that was compelling at times. His stature and frame were commanding, and it gave some exchanges a heightened sense of drama at times. As it ended, “plucked from death on a foreign land” I felt that given such an intense and draining hardship the play had only touched the surface of their suffering because telling us does not make us feel their anguish.
It is play that deserves to be heard and its presentation should reach a wider audience. It is to the credit of the Finborough Theatre to give voice to those who have suffered at the plight of seaborne migration at the hands of unscrupulous boatmen, driven by money and power.
Writer – Marc-Emmanuel Soriano.
Translated by Amanda Gann.
Directed by Alice Hamilton.
Set and Costume Design by Sarah Beaton.
Lighting Design by Jamie Platt. Sound by Daniel Balfour.
Presented by Clarisse Makundul Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Narrator Wisdom Iheoma.
Musician and performer Ola Teniola.
Finborough Theatre -Tuesday, 31 January – Saturday, 25 February 2023 AT 7.30PM