Abdul waits during the entire show, perching in the top of a ladder and having nightmares about his wife who is trapped back in Syria. Debby stands for almost half an hour, strapped to a spider’s web with a pig-masked guard always by her side, a theatrical version of her days in the modern slavery subworld. Abdulrahman spins in a hamster wheel, victim of an administrative bingo game. Baraa is caught in the pinball of finding all the documentation needed to settle in a new country in 28 days, running against homelessness. Mohand combines several jobs with the dream of becoming an actor.
Despite the harshness of the stories, the tone is never self-pitying. On the contrary, we are invited to laugh at their misadventures and in a way learn some shocking facts about the regulations asylum seekers face that challenge us to redefine “generosity”. There is an underlying feeling of resilience, as they know that sharing their stories is a way to fight for better opportunities, to expose their experiences to a blissfully ignorant audience and to give hope to others like them.
The show itself is a lovely collection of personal stories, humour and creative theatrical tricks.
From the beginning, the audience is invited to send their dreams to the stage, in the form of balloons. Light-hearted pictures of migrant’s everyday life alternate with the plottings of a system devoted to creating a “hostile environment”. Witty parody songs with hilariously crafted lyrics are an essential part of the show, from a cabaret describing how to cope with multiple jobs to a spoonful of missing paperwork. Brexit makes its appearance, prompting Europeans to join the refugees in the “one person, one question” race for a passport. Beloved British characters, such as Mary Poppins, William Shakespeare and one or two royals are also invited to the fun.
Hats off for some extraordinary performances, including a hilarious interpretation of Romeo and Juliet in “who has the strongest accent” version, and the best stand-alone moment of the whole show, a parody of a Home Office interview with intense witchcraft.
Almost as valuable as the show itself was the Q&A session that followed. The audience had the chance to get to know the actors behind the characters and to understand the creative process of the company. There were lots of questions regarding the regulations mentioned during the play, and many more about how much of the stories were true. Turns out they all are, albeit embelished and satirized. Abdul shared the good news: his wife obtained a visa, so they will be reunited after four years apart.
Welcome to the UK fills the stage with humour, horror, live music and candy floss, a satirical portrait of the UK, as director Sophie Besse describes it, “with a Sudanese, Italian, Syrian, Gambian, Iranian, Iraqi, Afghani, Zimbabwe, Armenian and French touch”.