Pros: An unpretentiously political, two-sided tale that demands our attention, intrigue and laughter.
Cons: There could be a touch more balance and coherence between the two monologues.
The Soho Theatre has to be one of my ultimate favourite places to be. There is a constant thrill buzzing through its bar, like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival intensified under the one roof. Its programme is crammed with a pick and mix array of comedy, cabaret, theatre and ‘impossible to classify’. Lampedusa is holding the fort at the Soho Upstairs, a small but perfectly formed space for all that is new, ballsy and exciting. Bringing fringe from the outskirts and slapping it bang in the middle of London, ready to bull’s eye a new audience. If ever there were a play that belonged at the forefront, it’s Lampedusa.
Through the exploration of humanity and hope, Lampedusa sees writer Anders Lustgarten tackle themes of desperation and poverty on a global and domestic scale. He channels these through two different though strikingly similar eyes. Those of Stefano (Ferdy Roberts) a fisherman by both trade and heritage who earns his wage fishing the drowned bodies of immigrants out of the Med. Stefano declares that ‘the Med is dead’ as he is haunted day and night by the boat loads of people whose pursuit of the Italian dream is brutally cut off somewhere between Africa and Lampedusa.
Roberts’ performance comes from his gut; it is flawlessly intense and yet unforced. He subtly captivates the audience, draws us in dulcetly; Roberts is powerful and quiet as he delivers Lustgarten’s incredibly balanced script. His narrative is full of vicious cycles that are recognisable and unavoidable. Stefano’s own desperation to provide for his family is mirrored by the plight of the immigrants searching for a new life – his torment is theirs. Amid the utterly compelling darkness of Lustgarten’s script, is humour and humanity. Lines like ‘pessimism is our national sport, you can see it in our football’, make the point of the story all the more accessible. That point is that humanity is the most important thing, we can make a difference to the powers that be by acts of kindness on an individual level. For Stefano the faces of the dead all merge into one but he helps an individual life and that’s what give substance to his cause.
His monologues are interspersed by those of Denise (Louise Mai Newberry) who works as a debt collector for a Payday loans company to finance her education. She is feisty to the point and, in many ways an every-woman. Denise wades through the complexities and hypocrisies of life with rights muddled by bureaucracies. Denise sees the rights of her squashed as she herself struggles to stand up and be counted, fighting against her migrant status, gender and lack of finances. She too finds that the only meaning in life emerges from interaction with others – that life seems to prosper on an individual level.
Lampedusa is presented beautifully thanks to Steven Atkinson’s direction; full to bursting with unpretentiously dark images, shock tactics and a sense of entrapment. So much so that you barely notice that you are absorbing facts about the state of the world’s attitudes towards immigration. Such is the subtle brilliance of Lampedusa, we are hardly aware of it slowly reeling us in until we are already caught up in Stefano’s nets and hauled aboard.
Author: Anders Lustgarten
Director: Steven Atkinson
Producer: Soho Theatre, Hightide Festival Theatre and Unity Theatre Liverpool.
Box Office: 02074780100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/lampedusa/
Booking Until: 26 April 2015.