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Fresh Off The Boat, Hen and Chickens Theatre – Review

A Border Story – Sarah Pitard
Directed by Eyal Israel
The Utility People – Michael Ross 

Directed by Cat Robey
★★

Pros: A lot of genuine humour and originality in the writing, delivered admirably by the actors

Cons: Two short plays meant there was less to get your teeth into. The stories lacked a deeper sense of emotion, and it was overall a bit unnecessarily preachy.

Our verdict: A snappy and witty couple of plays with an interesting and topical message but which lacked sophisticated subtlety or substance 

Credit: Paradigm Theatre
I remember the time I was stopped by the UK border police. I was taken into a side room and interrogated for hours by two big burly guards. I was then led into another room and told to strip naked before being searched. I felt so humiliated and all I could think was, ‘Why me? Why me?!’ All because I had a few kilos of mangoes in my bag, given to me by Carmela, my Venezuelan ex-pornstar internet girlfriend. I mean, is that really a crime?!

Of course, I’m totally exaggerating. There was only one big burly guard… but seriously, I’d imagine most people reading this would not have experienced the true might of Britain’s border enforcement methods. In two short plays, A Border Story and The Utility People, Paradigm Theatre Company attempted to show a slice of what it’s like on the other side of the – erm – flashlight.

A Border Story features a young multi-national couple. Amy, an American novellist and Brian, a British actor. They’ve just found out they’re expecting their first child, but far from it being a joyful occasion, they have a rather more pressing matter to deal with. Amy has outstayed her visa and has to leave the country.
In The Utility People, the shoe is on the other foot. Another young couple, Jake and Chloe, are leading the idyllic middle-England life with their wholesome jobs and liberal attitudes. That is, until they discover their spacious utility room has been infiltrated by a mother-and-son pairing of illegal immigrants. 
Both stories are seemingly true. The first, according to the blurb, is “an autobiographical account of Paradigm’s Artistic Directors’ own visa nightmare”; the second obtained from “the UK Home Office files”. The fact that these were real events naturally added a great deal of relevance and significance to proceedings. These weren’t situations that were plucked from a writer’s very often self-righteous and fanciful mind, they were happening every day right under the audience’s many noses.

Both stories also started in a similar vein. Well-measured humour, with the neat employment of a narrator to keep things runnning smoothly and efficiently. Indeed, special mention must go to Oliver Gatz, the ringmaster of the second play. He played his role with perfect comic timing and even managed to riff with an air conditioning unit. You might say he was a cool customer (ha, two can play at that game…)

Despite some genuinely nice touches, the main issue for me was that the stories didn’t travel in a particularly exciting direction. Yes, they resolved themselves adequately, but they didn’t have that oomph of a twist or crescendo you always hope for when seeing any creative performance. Ok, they were true stories, so the plotline couldn’t really be tampered with too much. But I suppose therein lay the problem: they were both too literal, too much like an essay, listing all the reasons why this is x and that is y, without allowing the audience to extract their own interpretations.

It also certainly didn’t help that the plays were so short. Immigration is a very complicated subject and deserves a far lengthier platform on which to debate its intricate details. And so, I fear, both plays were trying to get too much of a message across in too short a time. Or, to put it another way, they were trying to cram a bit too much into too small a place. Carmela would’ve been proud.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Fresh Off The Boat! runs at Hen and Chickens Theatre until 12th October 2013
Book online at:

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