Part play, part poem, Illegal sees writer and performer Jessica Phillippi reflect on her struggle to secure visas as an American wanting to live in the UK and the parallel struggles faced by those wanting to enter the US. As Trump trumpets about his wall and Brexit looms this side of the Atlantic, this a timely and intensely topical production.
The play’s protagonist came to Scotland to study at the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Combining her studies with a long-distance relationship with a guy in Spain, she uncovers a possible loophole in EU legislation that might allow her to stay when she’s finished studying, if her boyfriend relocates to the UK. She embarks on a series of decisions that could be compromises in a desperate quest to defend her right to remain. Her story plots that of a young Guatemalan girl, determined to look after her family, who becomes convinced that the best way to do this is by crossing the border to find better paid work.
Scandal Theatre have assembled an elegant production. Director and designer Heather Knudtsen‘s set is simple but neatly reinforces the endless paperwork that can be involved in these soul-destroying application processes. Two actors perform all the roles in these stories with a nice use of accents, physicality and accessories to define the different characters.
Philippi is brilliantly matter of fact as she goes to ever greater lengths to guard her visas. And she takes the opportunity to reflect on whether the progress she did make would have been so straightforward if she weren’t white. Elena Larios is endearingly determined to do the right thing, amidst a society and a political context that makes it increasingly hard. The final twist in her tale is especially moving when we discover that her character is based on a true story.
This is a thoughtful piece of theatre that asks pertinent questions. Who decides who gets to stay or go? Who attaches the value to particular professions? Who benefits from keeping immigrants out? And what is the right to remain really worth?