25 January 2019 (released)
28 January 2019
In 2016 Borderline had a great success with their show by the same name; a satire of the Calais ‘Jungle’ directed by Sophie NL Besse and performed by a mixed ensemble of refugees and European actors. 'Welcome to the UK', is a newly devised sequel, that satirises the highs and (mostly) lows of applying for refugee status in the UK – seeking employment, finding a place to live and making friends in a strange country. The UK’s ‘hostile environment policy’ makes life as difficult as possible for new arrivals, running round a hamster wheel while the home office responds to applications by owl mail.
Descending the ramp into the warm cavern that is the Bunker theatre, the atmosphere is that of a welcoming student review and in many ways the show had the same feel. After being handed raffle tickets, we are invited by the ring-master of this ‘circus’ to blow our dreams into a balloon, joining with the cast who arrive in the UK with their own dreams.
The cast of characters include Syrian refugee Salama, who has left his wife at home because the journey was too dangerous, cross-dressing Mosen who leaps out of a crate to the tune of, ‘I want to break free,’ and a young Gambian women who has arrived with the promise of an arranged marriage only to discover she has been lured in slavery and prostitution. In keeping with the circus concept, she is trapped in ‘the house of horrors’ while the ensemble sing a version of the hokey cokey, ‘in out, in out.’ Whilst the enthusiasm of the cast is palpable, this and many other moments mis-fire uncomfortably.
The statistics that filter through the show are shocking however many times you hear them – 17,000 dead at sea in the last five years and Borderline are to be applauded for setting out to raise awareness and change the negative narrative often associated with refugees. But the show feels very patchy with an uncertain pace and a lack of direction. It’s full of serious ideas and a valid playful approach but this production doesn’t succeed in capturing the potential drama of these extraordinary lives.