2016-01-17 15.03.14

2016-01-17 15.03.14

Image by malachybrowne

Daniel Nelson

The Jungle is an exciting, vibrant portrayal of life in the Calais encampment set up by refugees and migrants as a staging post for their hoped-for journey to Britain.

For three hours a day the Young Vic captures the the desperation, the hope, the tensions, the creativity of the camp that existed from January 2015 to October 2016.

The audience sit on benches in the Jungle's Afghan restaurant that critic A. A. Gill praised in a Sunday Times review: "The surprise, the great surpise, is the chicken livers ... This was a properly, cleverly crafted and wholly unexpected dish, made with a finesse the defied the surroundings, but at the same time elevated them..." On walkways around the audience and between the tables the camp residents and helpers argue and sing, fight and find comradeship, bury a child in Angel's Corner ("the muddy patch at the edge of a graveyard, full of little wooden crosses"), vote as national communities, put up tents, slag off Save the Children for not being there, confront the police, plan their escapes. TV news clips of police attacks raise the tension that's already high as anxious people try to scrape out a physical and mental space for themselves.

A six-year-old Syrian girl wanders in and out of the controlled chaos, a reminder of the hundreds of young unaccompanied children who lived in the camp. Another Syrian, a former English literature student, becomes a sort of ringmaster, until the strain of his own story and of the pressured lives swirling around him, drive him into action.

Occasionally the cry goes up: Dugar! Dugar! Dugar!

That's good news. Dugar means traffic jam - a chance to climb fences, escape police, jump lorries.

Writers Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson cram all this excitement and heartbreak into a fast-moving production - with the help of three former Jungle asylum-seekers in the cast - because in late 2015 they journeyed to Calais, stayed seven months and set up Good Chance ("tonight there's a good chance that I'll get to England" - a theatre that aimed to create a space for refugees to express themselves through the arts (pilloried by a British tabloid as a place where migrant chancers could dance the night away).

Back in London "the two Joes" were asked to write this play, and they are far too skilled to make it a simple glorification of the residents of the camp, who can be racist and culturally nationalistic, or of the volunteers, with their mixed and often fuzzy motives.  

For example, the play raises the question of whether the British volunteers who travelled to Calais to help migrants working in the Jungle inadvertently prolonged the camp and its appalling conditions. And it wonders whether the experience of cooperation in the camp offers lessons for the integration of migrants and refugees in Britain.

Once or twice a little explanation has to be shoehorned in (for instance, explaining how people smugglers work), ditto a couple of declamatory speeches, but overall this is an entertaining, exhilarating, intelligent evening that makes most current shows look static and shallow.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE!

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE!

Image by Adam Gerard


+ The journey from Calais to the London stage

+ Did volunteers who flocked to Calais do more harm than good?

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