Trying to get to the Arts Centre for 6pm was a bit of a trial. With traffic on the remaining city roads backed up and solid it was difficult to weave through even on my bike.
Yet such trivial irritations are set firmly in context by the challenge facing the young couple at the heart of this drama.
Yasmine Frost (Tamanna Rahman) is applying for permission to stay in the U.K. Originally from Morocco, she has been studying at UEA, and has fallen in love with fellow student Edward Frost (Joe Jones). They have married recently.
We only see Edward and Yasmine in photos behind the stage. On the stage a large simple table fronts the audience, with three stern officials (Bisola Elizabeth Alabi, Christopher Sherwood and Daniel York) seated behind. These three are UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers, and they are conducting an official examination of the case for allowing or refusing Yasmine permission to stay in the U.K.
They clinically analyse the data that they are permitted to demand and examine, much of which is very personal and intrusive. Imagine that all your text messages, photos, emails, Facebook and other social media from the last five years are being laid out for a committee of strangers to examine, a committee charged by government with blocking as many applications as possible.
‘Are they really in love? Where is the evidence?’ We are taken through the slow development of the relationship between Yasmine and Edward, retold through the evidence demanded by the UKBA officers. Like any young couple who meet as students their relationship has its ups and downs, which are clinically picked apart for any shred of evidence that could lead to a refusal. Photographs are scrutinised for telltale signs of insincerity. Gifts from family members are looked at as potential corruption. Income level thresholds are set so high as to eliminate sponsors or applicants in working class jobs.
The three officials are not monsters, they are rather overworked underpaid public servants who are given an impossible workload and a mission to refuse. They occasionally lapse into personal comment, which shows the ethos of the ‘service’ that we as a country have required them to perform.
Directed by Emily Collins, this hard hitting short play is written by Michelle Sewell. Today’s audience is empathetic, but I am sure we all feel that we would like to drag every Tory MP, tabloid columnist and other hate mongers to sit and watch this through. It is the most powerful reminder of how dehumanised we are becoming as a society. ‘Cutting immigrant numbers’ gets political support from all classes of people, would they be so keen if it was re-branded ‘tearing young people’s lives apart’?
The timing of this production in the same week that many of us will enjoy ‘Come Yew In’ is appropriate, as both examine different aspects of the business of immigration. While the Common Lot show ‘Come Yew In’ is positive and upbeat ‘Border Control’ shows modern intolerance at its most chilling and impersonal. The message could not be clearer – talking about immigration in terms of numbers and nationalities leads to real harm against people.
A short panel discussion followed the production, chaired by former City Council Leader Brenda Arthur. Discussion focused on the role of tabloid newspapers and other media in fostering the current climate of intolerance.
The production was part of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival – find out more at ynaf.org.uk
© Julian Swainson 2017
Read more about ‘Come Yew In’ here: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/norwich-eye-review-come-yew-in-by-the-common-lot/