Inspired by conversations writer Henry Naylor had with refugees during Q&A sessions whilst touring this third play, Angel, latest offering Borders sees Naylor turning his attention to the refugee crisis.
A two-hander, the piece juxtaposes the story of Farah, a young female Syrian refugee escaping to Europe, with a second tale of an aspiring photo-journalist, Sebastian Nightingale, whose chance assignment in photographing Bin Laden years earlier, leads him on to a life of media glamour and success, covering the likes of Daniel Bedingfield and Robbie Williams.
Farah uses her artistic skills to fight the revolution using graffiti to paint political slogans and deface images of dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad. This is not only considered vandalism, but a weakening of the tyrant’s power and punishable through extreme measures.
Farah never wanted to leave her homeland or give up the cause but due to an accidental pregnancy, she is forced to escape to Europe on a life-threatening journey for the chance to raise her unborn child.
Meanwhile Sebastian uses his photographic artistry to profit from the misery of war and global catastrophes, like typhoons, 9/11 and the Syrian civil war, fuelled by his own greed and the need for acceptance in a world where social media and celebrities rule.
Their stories may be different, but Naylor connects the two different lives together through historical and cultural references that an audience may surely find relatable.
Ranging from 1998 to 9/11, then to Soccer Aid in 2006 up to the present day, celebrities like Daniel Bedingfield, Robbie Williams, Bono, Angelina Jolie and Eamonn Holmes provide the source of many of one-liners that add an element of lightness and humour to an otherwise horrific tale.
Naylor cleverly reinforces the ludicrousness of Sebastian’s success and earning potential with Farah’s mother’s desperate attempts to fund her daughter’s escape to Europe so she can fulfil her destiny in ‘creating her greatest masterpiece’, the baby.
There’s a similar and familiar style to Naylor’s writing, and like in Echoes, his second play, he uses short sound bites to set the characters’ situations and backgrounds, intertwined to tell individual stories yet climaxing in a coming together of both worlds. Michael Cabot’s staging and direction is simple yet effective, intensified by the use of just two stools as props.
Both Avital Lvova as Farah and Graham O’Mara as Sebastian give strong, energetic performances and do justice to Naylor’s script, which effortlessly weaves Naylor’s skill for the odd joke, with the seriousness of Farah’s flight and plight. This may be fiction but you can’t help seeing and thinking about the parallels with what is happening in reality.
Borders is yet another masterpiece from Naylor, exploring a difficult subject – rising tensions caused by civil unrest in Syria, and the consequential displacement of countless refugees – with remarkable poignancy. This is true stripped back theatre; one where performances, script and direction are justly able to shine.