Pros: Fantastic comic routines, dark satire, beautiful set design, and an endearing ensemble performance make Welcome to the UK a rewarding and powerful watch.
Cons: Welcome to the UK may disappoint viewers looking for character or narrative development.
Immigration is a joke. Whether fleeing death or simply looking for a better life, recent arrivals in this country can expect meagre allowances, strict surveillance, limited work, trafficking, exploitation, violence, demonisation and, always, the threat of deportation. The joke is a cruel one, absurd and grotesque and, as Welcome to the UK proves, as darkly funny as it is horrifying.
Welcome to the UK is a high achievement of cabaret theatre, using song and routine to tell refugee stories with devastating effect. Featuring performers from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Gambia, Armenia, Zimbabwe, France, Iraq, and Italy, the production is more of a satirical revue than straight drama, with characters appearing briefly for short sketches on the indignities of immigrant life in Britain.
The play fits so much into its short running time that it is difficult to do justice to its many moments of dark comic invention. Particular highlights include a tribute to Freddie Mercury from a gay man escaping oppression in the Middle East, a Home Office raffle to determine immigrant fates, Job Centre pinball, and two men teaching each other Shakespeare – a moment so funny it brought one performer to corpsing – which still brings a smile to my face when I think of it now.
Expertly switching between comedy and horror, Welcome to the UK does not neglect to show the injustices that refugees experience. The trafficking of an African woman, whose wedding gown serves as bond, is dealt with sensitively and effectively, while a haunting sequence of Jihadist murder reminds the audience of the conditions from which people understandably flee. Pantomime villainy and circus set design aside, the play does not shy away from presenting these harsh realities, and for that deserves praise.
Welcome to the UK is a powerful reminder of the humanity of refugees, and a damning indictment of their treatment at the hands of cold bureaucracy, a hostile press, and a callous public. The first of a new season at the Bunker, the play bodes well for new Artistic Director Chris Sonnex, whose commitment to new and exciting work from diverse perspectives has created considerable buzz for the fringe venue. If Welcome to the UK is a sign of what’s to come, I can’t wait to be welcomed back.
Director: Sophie NL Besse
Producer: Rebecca Hayes Laughton
Box Office: 0207 234 0486
Booking Link: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/borderline/book-now
Booking Until: 16 February 2019