The world is facing an unprecedented migrant crisis. Forced displacement of individuals has doubled since 2010 and there are now 82 million people globally seeking refuge out of necessity, mainly as a result of climate change or war. Mostly forced to use irregular means, these migrants are coerced into paying smugglers extortionate amounts of money, risking exploitation, violence, detention, and death.
This is the setting for Marc-Emmanuel Soriano’s One Who Wants To Cross.
A sudden blackout signals the start of the piece before Wisdom Iheoma is startlingly revealed to the audience who sit either side of the set. A boat shaped object in shiny material, its light reflecting on the white wall at the back of the stage, is the only physical piece of equipment used. Iheoma and fellow actor Ola Teniola lithely clamber over and around this at will. The speeches, which are mostly in the form of narration by Iheoma, repeat the inflection inherent in the line: “There is one who wants to cross … one who cannot BUT cross”.
Narrator Iheoma carries the bulk of the oration, resulting in an unwavering timbre which can be hypnotic. It is broken only by occasional discordant bursts of sound from speakers reflecting the reality of a sea crossing with crashing waves and accompanying noise. Relief comes in the form of accomplished acting from Teniola who plays a multitude of characters, all desperate to cross, all willing to do what it takes. Sometimes the role of the smuggler is examined, often the reality of death is considered, always the necessity of travelling is explicit.
The setting is deliberately vague: the country the individual comes from is unspecified, the route of escape uncertain, a water crossing assumed, but where and when is unnecessary because this is reality for so much of humanity.
This is a solid story of the reality of migrants and the dangerous journeys they are forced to take. They take them because they have no other option, and it is an unflinching and detailed exposure of the reality of such a journey. Death is a realistic outcome where survivors will pick through the belongings of the deceased to take what will be useful.
There is much to applaud in the delivery, and in particular set, lighting and sound design bring much needed variation in tone. However, the percentage of delivery is skewed in favour of narration which results in a monotone. Much needed life could be added to this performance by favouring dialogue over narration. This production marks the play’s London debut, but it is interesting that it has previously been staged as a reading at the Théâtre National de Strasbourg. I think for it to bring home the true horrors of the necessity of migration it needs to move away from the narration mode and provide some variation in tone. Nonetheless this is an important and unflinching story of our time.
Written by: Marc-Emmanuel Soriano
Translated by: Amanda Gann
Directed by: Alice Hamilton
Set and Costume Design by: Sarah Beaton
Lighting Design by: Jamie Platt
Composer and Sound Design by: Dan Balfour
Produced by: Clarisse Makundul Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
One Who Wants To Cross is playing at Finborough Theatre until Saturday 25 February 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.