Daniel Nelson

Feeling a little jaded with traditional theatrical formats? Try Removal Men.

It’s a three-hander – two officers and their woman boss (Clare Perkins, so good that she seems to be a manager at work rather than an actor on stage) – set in an immigration removal centre. One of the men has fallen for a Lebanese detainee.

It’s an unusual set-up that has its origins in the involvement of one of the writers, Mike Harding, in an attempt to block the deportation of an Indian detainee at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

“His action made him ask chilling questions,” he and co-writer Jay Miller say in their programme note. “How had we got to a place where this was normal? How did the guards who attended her, who seemed like ordinary young men from Essex, understand their role?

“It is a dark, unsettling story,” say Miller and Harding (an ex-member of the band Fat White Family), “which asks how, as a society, we have got to this place – where horrifying abuses of power happen within structures which are designed to ‘protect’.”

Good questions, rarely asked. And the writing and production are even more surprising. There are songs; and a sub-plot that provoked nervous, perhaps bewildered, titters among fellow audience members; and a couple of places where the tension drops and you think the piece might go on too long.

Research for the play

Yarl's Wood: Keep Out

Yarl's Wood: Keep Out

Image by Wasi Daniju

 led to questioning about “how it has become standard practice for a ‘civilised’ country to detain refugees indefinitely. We have considered how the ordinary people who work in IRCs are part of a system of cultural ‘removal’ which we all practice – we are distanced from the violence carried out to ‘keep us safe’, from our feelings of shame about this, from being able to truly feel compassion for other people.”

This short play in a small theatre in a dark east London street certainly doesn’t answer such questions. It doesn’t even come near to doing so.

But overall it’s a bold attempt to grapple with big questions and to put a vulnerably human face on the detention officers who act in our name.

* Removal Men is at the Yard Theatre, 2A, Queen’s Yard, E9 5EN, until 10 December; £15/  £12.50/ £10. Info: 3111 0570

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