Steve Lambert is a man with a mission and we need him more than ever now. He is the actor at the heart of Badac Theatre, a company that stages challenging work with a core human rights message. As the issues that Badac deal with are often violent and difficult the drama reflects this, and the plays are never an easy watch.
Steve wrote and directed The Journey following extensive research both in the UK and in the Middle East and he aims to give a voice to people who find themselves as refugees after their homes, communities and families are torn apart by civil war, religious extremism or state-run violent oppression. While he appears in this play himself as both the narrator and the voice of authority the action is mostly portrayed by the three principal performers.
Maria Alexe plays a single mother who is happy working as a teacher and bringing up her two children, a teenage girl played by Rebecca Wilson and a slightly older boy played by Bogdan Silaghi. The characters have no names, reflecting both the depersonalisation of the refugee treatment processes in many countries and their role as ‘everyman’ refugees, their story being collated from the experiences of many. We also meet Egyptian born Norwich citizen Salah El Nagar, who stands mute through most of the play but adds the voice of his own experience towards the end, and in the post-play discussion.
The family experience the reality of life in strife torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, where bombs made in Britain or America rain down on the apartments of families with no involvement in the political and religious struggles taking place around them. Torture and rape are suddenly a constant everyday threat, there is no food, water or electricity to be had. Director Steve Lambert asks a lot of his cast, and they deliver magnificently leaving us with no doubt of just how harrowing the refugee experience is that drives them from their home and country to trust strangers to help them rebuild their lives.
The play touches on the distrust and hostility not just of some host countries citizens but worse their officials, forever doubting the veracity of the claims of those seeking sanctuary and some chance of regaining a normal life. Refugees who make it through many boundaries and physical challenges tend to be very resourceful and capable people who often go on to contribute massively to the life of their new host countries, but even in their new homes they face discrimination and intolerance from ignorant people driven to hatred by demagogues like Trump and Farage and the tabloid press that thrives on division.
This play is not an easy watch, although perhaps less violent and visceral than some of the work that Steve has brought us previously, but it is a hugely rewarding theatrical experience which will make even the most sympathetic of us reconsider how we address the issue of refugees and our part in creating their problems in the first place. The three members of the family are brilliantly brought to life by the cast who remain realistic in their depiction of family life while enduring unimaginable depredations. Badac theatre has once again given us a landmark production that is worth seeking out – if you missed the Norwich performance the play will be performed in Great Yarmouth on the 7th December. Norwich Arts centre can always draw a good audience for difficult drama, it will be interesting to see how Yarmouth compares!
Talking to Steve after the play I observed that unlike much of his work which features a very close involvement with his audience this play would actually work on TV, which would bring this important work to wider audience. It will be interesting to see whether any producer would be brave enough to rise to that challenge. Any offers?
© Julian Swainson 2018
The Journey by Badac Theatre Company
A passionately compelling, fearless, intense and immersive slice of drama that is true to the experiences of refugees from across the globe, fleeing conflict and, sometimes, certain death.
Friday 7th December 8.00pm
Great Yarmouth The Drill Hall York Road NR30 2LZ
£8, £6 01493 745458 https://seachangearts.org.uk