“The problem is, citizenship isn’t automatically acquired through naturalisation”
I was initially quite hesitant about booking to see Routes – the murkily complex worlds of immigration and what was the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are all too familiar to me from aspects of my work and so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see a dramatic interpretation of the painful intricacies of the legal system that so many people are forced to endure. And though Rachel De-lahay’s play, her second for the Royal Court, has a vivid compassion and a burning sense of injustice, it never really dealt sufficiently with its subject matter for my liking, barely scratching at the surface of something so rotten in the state of Great Britain.
She intertwines a number of stories, all to do with immigration and citizenship and how precious the rare flashes of humanity are, that survive in this system. Fiston Barek’s teenage Bashir has spent most of his life in the UK but at the slightest hint of trouble, finds his indefinite leave to remain under threat and a forcible return to Somalia on the cards. His roommate in his hostel is Calvin Demba’s Kola, a troubled youth offender disowned by his parents, one of whom works for the UKBA. And in Nigeria, Peter Bankolé’s Femi is trying to beat the system by buying a fake identity to be able to join his family in the UK.
Simon Godwin’s production does its best with the material, teasing some excellent performances from the cast – Anamaria Marinca’s Polish volunteer Anka who valiantly battles for Bashir and countless others besides is the real highlight – but all is ultimately hampered by the brevity of the show. De-lahay cleverly manages to work in a real sense of lived-in humour into her dialogue and identities the all-too-cruel ironies inherent in a system that leaves far too many in a horrendous stateless limbo whilst processing claims at a snail’s pace. But she just shows this, she doesn’t explore it and what it might mean that we accept, and even encourage, this state of affairs.