How to dramatise the refugee experience? You could do as Sonya Kelly does in the excellent The Last Return, now showing at the Traverse, and turn it into a comedy about our territorial instincts. Or you could take the lead of Uma Nada-Rajah in Exodus, at the same theatre, and try satirical fantasy. Then there is the option selected by Sami Ibrahim in this Paines Plough/Rose theatre co-production: make it a fable.
Adopting the once upon a time tone of a storybook, Ibrahim takes us into a fairytale dreamscape of pastures and livestock, wealthy landowners and innocent peasants. It is at once recognisable and heightened, a mythical land where a girl can make a living filling the sky with clouds, just as long as she conquers the dark, archetypal forces threatening to deny a happy ending.
There are times in the early stages of Yasmin Hafesji’s energised staging when the three actors battle to control the story. Eager to take the lead, Sara Hazemi, Princess Khumalo and Samuel Tracy talk over each other’s lines, diverting the narrative flow in their preferred direction.
Dynamic though they are, it does for a while feel like a faraway tale, remote from our lives. But this is a modern-day story of emigration and it has no happily ever after certainty. The more the play goes on, the less Ibrahim treats it like a fairytale. Cold reality intrudes and urban indifference replaces rural acceptance.
In the central role of Elif, Hazemi goes from carefree teenager, wandering wherever her sheep take her, to stressed single mum, entangled in a web of bureaucracy as she tries to attain legal status. All the while, she must support her daughter Lily (Khumalo). Elif is an illegal immigrant and if she fails to get paperwork by Lily’s 18th birthday, the girl, too, as if under a witch’s curse, will be declared illegal.
Elif’s supernatural gifts take on an apocalyptic hue as she gets a job vacuuming flooded streets, endless work that pays her little. All she gets for her efforts is an alienated daughter, resentful for her absences. The story might be sadly familiar, but the ensemble storytelling makes it resonant.
August 9, 2022 at 04:38PM Mark Fisher