Upon entering The Bunker theatre in Southwark, one is confronted with a sign dividing the foyer into two paths; it reads on one side “UK/EU Passports” and “All other passports” on the other. This well-intentioned decorum sets the mood for Welcome to the UK in general; the heavy subject of the refugee crisis is tackled through parody and poignancy in equal measure. What makes the production all the more important is the diversity of the cast itself, some of who are refugees themselves, from as many as thirteen different countries. The play sparks thought, as it asks an audience how easy they think it is for asylum-seekers to begin to restart their lives in the UK – which here is reimagined as some sort of amusement park of unexpected horrors.
Image: The Bunker
The endearing nature of the clearly closely-knit ensemble (named ‘Borderline’, after their initial 2016 show, described as ‘satire of the Calais Jungle’) really shines through in the production, as they weave together stories showing the struggles that refugees go through upon entering the UK. However, there is a dark twist—these issues are reinvented as fairground attractions, including the ‘Rollercoaster of Emotions’ that asylum-seekers ride when attempting to reach family back home, and the ‘haunted house’ which acts as a brothel that a young bride is forced into. The production never falls flat of enthusiastic physicality, even though this can sometimes seem a bit unpolished and clunky in terms of development of the basic plot.
Above all, though, Welcome to the UK is a fun and boisterous production led by genuine warm performances; in particular, the fluid usage of the performance space where the audience are encouraged to throw balloons onto the stage, and where actors yell at each other from different sides of the theatre, helps capture the wild chaos of the funfair environment. Standing out as especially amusing is the way that Theresa May is represented as a manic accordion-yielding ringmaster running the show, along with a crazed fortune-teller who is supposed to act as an asylum assessment interviewer.
In general, the script, devised by the company, manages to present thought-provoking moments amongst the silliness, leaving an audience well-informed and energized. In the background of the frenzied amusement park—the ‘hostile environment’ of the UK—images such as the Syrian refugee waiting on top of a ladder for most of the play to reunite with his family, remain burned into our minds, as such a pressing issue should.
Catch Welcome to the UK in all its vibrant, satirical turmoil at The Bunker until February 16th.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor