Pros: There are some very powerful moments, particularly when the characters are discussing the situations they have come from.
Cons: The noise of the pub carries into the theatre, which is incredibly distracting and causes real issues in this type of play.
My evening did not get off to the best of starts. I decided to have dinner at The Curtains Up pub, which houses the Barons Court Theatre. I ordered a chicken kiev and although I hate to do this, had to send it back as there was a very pink bit of meat. My companion said the veggie option was delicious, and it’s a lovely venue overall, but unfortunately I had rather lost my appetite.
Once show time arrived, we headed down the stairs to the theatre. I haven’t been to many pub theatres where the theatre is located underneath the pub and, in this case, I’m not sure it works. Throughout the play you could hear what sounded like the kitchen and a fridge making noises, laughter from the pub and also the hand dryers going on and off in the toilets. Owing to the nature of the play, this was incredibly distracting and did nothing to help keep attention on the unfolding story.
Calais was written by Dermot Dolan, who has volunteered with Care for Calais and met the founder of the Hummingbird Project, a charity which provides shelter and support for refugees in Calais. This play, then, really has the potential to be hard-hitting and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t quite succeed. The play follows the experiences of four refugees in the Jungle in Calais, waiting to go to England. Their desperation even has one character considering swimming across.
Of course the refugee crisis is an incredibly tough subject to tackle in theatre, but I felt that this play is focused too much on the headlines and things that the audience is already aware of. The script also tends to really spell out some points, while it would have had more impact had the audience been left to decipher situations for themselves and discover more about the characters’ personalities. It’s surprisingly hard to feel empathy for the characters, despite the horrors of the crisis. This is partly because of the explicitness of the script and partly because it occasionally felt like the cast were just reading their lines. We didn’t really get to know the characters and consequently, some of the emotion felt false.
Having said this, Michael Oku delivers a fantastic performance. His determination to swim the channel rather than stay in his current situation is a reminder of the desperation felt by refugees, and the scene in which he recalls the torture he has suffered is incredibly difficult to watch. With tears rolling down his face he describes the brutal treatment he has received; it is one of the most powerful moments of the show.
Calais really has the potential to be an incredibly important piece of theatre in highlighting the refugee crisis. With stronger characters the play could move audience perceptions beyond headlines and news stories, something of which I think we are all guilty. In this case, however, the play mainly left me feeling guilty for feeling fidgety and distracted.
Author: Dermot Dolan
Director: Grace Smith
Producers: Dermot Dolan and Grace Smith
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Link: https://www.facebook.com/CalaisThePlay/
Booking Until: 8 May 2016