Watching a play both set and acted in a real shipping container is quite an experience. I’m not a good theatre critic so you must forgive my inexperience, but I liked this Young Vic staging of the Edinburgh hit, despite its downsides. The staging of this play about asylum seekers and ‘illegal’ immigration was phenomenal, the acting sound (for the most part), and the politics and sociology well conveyed. Did they all add up together into a great work? In Edinburgh 2007 maybe, marginally less so maybe in London. At only an hour long it has to grab your attention pretty forcefully, but ends up tantalising more than it satisfies. It’s not because there’s nothing interesting going on (far from it), and it’s provocative from the outset. Sitting in a container with real-world traffic rolling past adds a compelling level of reality. It just seems to try to do too much in too little time, leaving the drama underplayed and the issues slightly under-investigated. You are left in no doubt about the conflicts between the characters and the dilemmas which they face in their escape to England – the pregnant Afghan teacher literally fleeing for her life, the Somali women escaping war, the Turkish Kurd trying to a society which he already knows is geared to discriminate against him. But writer Clare Bayley and director Tom Wright miss out somewhat of the intensity of now. Just what are the dangers the characters face through the extortion of their Agent? What must their fear and hunger be like, their paranoia? It’s an effectively cynical and nihilistic piece, although the actors only occasionally fully realise the desperation of their characters.
It’s a play which only hints at the reality of people trafficking. We hear how England is a ‘green and pleasant land’, but surely even your average ‘illegal’ Somali immigrant is actually making a trade-off between the horrors they’ve left behind, and what must be an improvement in the UK. We never really know why England – why not France, why not Germany, Denmark, Belgium even (which is namechecked by one of the characters)? It’s left to those of us really in the know about the horror of this government’s abuses of the families and rights of ‘illegal’ immigrants and asylum seekers, to appreciate just how misguided and doomed to failure these decent people are in choosing a country which hates them. Clearly that tragedy would never have time to be conveyed in just an hour, and I look forward to the sequel which is in development. In the meantime ‘The Container’ is a thought-provoking and refreshingly original theatrical experience; it is highly recommended.