Let’s begin at the end shall we? A thick Irish accent reminds us “Stephen King couldn’t write this, this is real”. It’s important to remember that because this verbatim piece about British citizens deported from the USA after committing a crime is stranger than fiction. And far more engaging.
We’re initially greeted by an uninspiringly set. Plain white, with seven blue wheeled office chairs. What follows is a whirlwind of heartbreak, hilarity and hard life story’s, And it’s 100% real (sorry I’ve already mentioned that). Synergy Theatre Project, in collaboration with Prisoners Abroad, commissioned the work, interviewing deportees about their lives and experience. They then cleverly add in a devil’s advocate character, Curtis, the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer to “spice things up a bit”. He proves to be a cruel yet comic narrator that ties the fractured stories of bureaucratic injustice and inhuman treatment together.
The story is also highly informative. I was not aware of the 1,200 complaints of sexual assault that have been lodged against ICE, not to mention the desperate situations the deportees are kept in. This is theatre at the cutting edge of politics, winding together fact, song, dance, emotional confession, and candid testimonial in a piece bursting at the seams with worthy anger.
With only two moveable metal fences for the set the onus is on the performers. Along with Esther Baker’s direction and Hassan Abdulrazzak’s wonderful combining of verbatim text and clear writing, this is what makes The Special Relationship so…well special. Nicholas Beveney’s “baddie” Curtis, breaks up the emotional monologues with song, dance, and charm. Yvette Boakye is the fiery and irrepressible Glam-mother Nikol is every inch the character. She allows the naturalness of the lines to flow through her organically. The same can be said for Amrita Acharia’s recovering drug addict mother, Anne and Moyo Akandé who is the wealthy businesswomen Clodine. Then there is Fergal McElherron, playing Patrick, an Irish father breaking the law to see his daughter, which is a hard story to hear. Transforming into Boris Johnson with very little fluster in the next scene like it’s a stroll in the park. Unnervingly impressive.
The play rests in the capable hands of the performers, who embody the serious lives of the real people, then flip, they break into a politicised version of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. The tragedy and humour could only work with this level of professionalism, although the alternating between the two does eventually become a little predictable.
The whole piece vibrates with frustration at a system growing more corrupt with the addition of private companies (who could predict that law and money wouldn’t work well together?). Despite a politically bleak message, the humanity of the people behind the actors is visible throughout. As Nikol states “My Life is not in your hands”. The inescapable truth of this statement carries through the play, people are people, regardless of citizenship.
Written by: Hassan Abdulrazzak
Directed by: Esther Baker
Produced by: Synergy Theatre Project
Booking Link: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/special-relationship/
Booking Until: 21 March 2020