‘The Jungle’ is a powerful and poignant play which shines a bright light on one of societies darker issues, the ‘refugee crisis’. From all corners of the world there are thousands of people who find themselves in a positions meaning that they cannot remain in their home countries.
One would hope that in 2018, after the many atrocities, disasters and injustices faced that we would no longer live in a world with war, famine and poverty. That the horrific unequal distribution of opportunities would have been rectified and all would have a good chance at life, it seems however, that that is still a very long way off.
All too often Refugee is described as a nationality. A faceless mass of people with no individuality, no identity, just ‘refugees’. Apart from being incredibly insulting this is also a particularly dangerous problem, because, as history will show, when someones humanity and identity is removed it becomes much easier to ignore their human rights.
Thankfully people like Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson from the Good Chance Theatre Company are creating work which challenges this notion. Their play follows the journey of the unofficial refugee camp in Calais from formation to eventual eviction and what a journey it is.
The main space at the Young Vic has been rendered completely unrecognisable. With a patchwork of plastic sheeting for ceiling, floors made completely of mud, and backless wooden stools for seating we find ourselves in the middle of the jungle, in Salar’s (Ben Turner) Afghan restaurant.
With no fourth wall for us to hide behind, the removal of any hint of comfy theatre and the constant direct address, we were forced even further into the role of community members rather than spectators. A feeling which had been initiated from the get go as we had been seated in groups dictated by the adoptive nationality printed on our tickets.
And then it beginnings.
Intentional mayhem ensues as languages fly across the room, Arabic, Kurdish, Pashto, Tigrinya, cascade over one another. There’s been a threat of eviction and all have come together to discuss what is to be done. The drama escalates and members of the Companies Republicans de Securite enter the restaurant with tear gas.
..says Syrian refugee Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) as he brings a halt to the action. Introducing himself as the narrator. Pulling us back through time he guides through the play introducing refugee’s from, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran and Eritrea. Each has their own story and each their own reason for being here, and yet all are here for the same reason.
Something which is constant through this play is the forming of a community from many cultures and nationalities under horrific circumstances. As Mohammed ( Ansu Kabia ) says “There are tensions between our people. Before we lived in separate places. Now, we must live together.” And live together they do, not always in easily but for the most part in harmony. A harmony were beautiful Iranian love songs, Sudanese song’s about French police, Islamic and Christian prayer songs all blend together creating the sweet symphony of The Jungle.
There are some gut wrenching moments, the kind that make you want to book a ticket to the remaining distribution points and do whatever you can, just like the five Brits in the play. Pitching up with back packs, cereal boxes and expecting to find ‘Glastonbury minus the toilets‘.
One particularly agonising moment comes by way of Okot’s (John Pfumojena) retelling of his journey to the Jungle. ” A refugee dies many times” he begins and every heart in the room breaks.
Tempering the tear jerking moments however was also an abundance of joy, hope and humour and that is what makes this play so brilliant. It’s rooted in humanity, the good and the bad and the true. It shows how even in the darkest times people can make something out of nothing.
I simply refuse to single out any of the company as giving a ‘best’ performance because in this show they were all equally incredible both individually and collectively. The performances they gave were vibrant, multifaceted and honest and thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation they received.
For two hours and forty-five minutes the extraordinarily talented cast members of ‘The Jungle’ led me along the border between heartbreak and hope, and for that I am truly thankful. Both thought (and perhaps more importantly) action provoking this is a play which everyone should see. *****
*Imagery Credits David Sandison