Welcome to the UK

Welcome to the UK

Image by Welcome to the UK

 

Daniel Nelson

Few who oppose refugee arrivals will be converted by Welcome To the UK, but for the rest of us it's fun and the post-show Q&As offer a chance to give even reasonably well-informed audiences a little more insight into the cruelty of our asylum system.

It's not so much a play, more a starburst of sketches, funny, sad, surreal and dramatic, about seeking asylum here: a brothel, a Home Office roller-coaster (and lottery), a two-minute version of Romeo and Juliet.

Theresa May appears as a vicious  accordian-playing ringmaster (a wonderful instrument for conjuring up beseechingly plaintiff moments); a Syrian sits atop a ladder, waiting; a Gambian woman roots you to the spot with her tale of an arranged and shocking trafficking marriage before riskily shattering the mood by leading an ensemble rendering of “One man in, One man out, In Out, In out, That's what it's all about all about”.

Wish-filled balloons bobble about the stage, a mile of obstructive Home Office paperwork reels out of someone's mouth. Moods shift from the desperation of phonecalls home to the lunatic craziness of an asylum interview. Everything is pilloried, from the absurdity of citizenship questions to the contrast between the death-by-a-hundred cuts of the hostile environment and obsequious kowtowing to the royal embrace of a Hollywood migrant.

The media's drive to turn every story into an anti-migrant diatribe takes the heaviest punches, but the production also bravely mocks the Mary Poppins tendency to smother refugees with well-meaning but stifling kindness — which provoked an after-show discussion question about the best ways of helping.

The diversity of styles ("It's so horrible and so funny at the same time", said an audience member after the show I attended) is matched by the diversity of the cast, who come from Afghanistan, The Gambia ("I am a voice for other women"), Iran, Italy, Sudan, Syria and Zambia, as well as Britain.

In such a rapid-fire attack on a variety of issues the quality inevitably varies, from crass to inspired, and the alternating changes of pace are too predictable. But it manages to be entertaining, for both cast and audience, and accurate on the inequities of refugee policy.

* Welcome to the UK, with a Q&A after each performance, is at the The Bunker, 53a Southwark Street, SE1, until 16 February; £16/£12/£10. Info: 7234 0486/ boxoffice@bunkertheatre.com/

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