Review: Lampedusa, Soho Theatre

“Blaming ‘fucking migrants’ for every single thing we don’t like about ourselves”

There’s something rather ingenious about Lucy Osborne’s design for Anders Lustgarten’s new play Lampedusa. It’s the type of set that invites descriptors like ‘bare’ and ‘minimal’ (cf the Guardian’s reduction of Jan Versweyveld’s Olivier-nominated work to “there is no set”) when you walk into the upstairs space at the Soho Theatre, there appears to be nothing but circular, backless benches on which we must gather around. But even the act of taking a seat becomes charged with something more as the collective gaze of the audience is turned in on each other, even before the play has started.

That’s the point that Steven Atkinson’s production skilfully but pointedly makes, and that Osborne’s design in all its ostensible simplicity never lets us forget, that – to coin a phrase – we’re all in this together. As the voices of an Italian coastguard and a Yorkshire payday loan collector speak out from in among us, you realise there but for the grace of God – the people forced to flee persecution or government crackdowns, those who suffer the indignities of derogatory language spat at them or ATOS’ risible assessment procedure, those left with no choice but to make desperate, desperate decisions – it could be us, it is us. 

And even if we don’t think it is us, Lustgarten doesn’t let us off the hook that easily as he inserts hope at the centre of all these experiences and place the responsibility for its survival in our hands. In both the cases illustrated here, it is a migrant who cracks open the darkness for our protagonists but the implication is clear – the cumulative power of individual acts of kindness has the potential to change the world and it begins with us, the people in the room whose gazes you glance onto and quickly look away from, the very people on whose random act of kindness you might one day have to rely.

Elliot Griggs’ lighting and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound heighten the theatricality in the more intense moments of storytelling but crucially keep us connected to the very fabric of the production. And Ferdy Roberts’ beautifully sonorous voice as the seaman dealing with the bodies of migrants risking the voyage across the Mediterranean and Louise Mai Newberry’s strident directness as the loan collector trying not to have a conscience leave you in no doubt as to how seriously to take the message here. A deeply moving experience that will linger long in the mind.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 26th April, transferring to HighTide Festival from 10th September and then Unity Theatre, Liverpool on 24th September 

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