Removal Men review at the Yard, London – ‘eclectic, amusing, and frequently beautiful’
Another week, another earnest play addressing the refugee crisis. Except Removal Men is different. Co-written by MJ Harding and Jay Miller, it’s an eclectic, amusing, and frequently beautiful story of compassion, humanity and forbidden love in Birchanger Immigration Removal Centre, told from the point of view of its inept, dysfunctional employees. With songs.
Mo (Mark Field), a disarmingly childish detention officer from Bishop’s Stortford, loves Didi, a detainee about to be put on a plane back to Lebanon. George (Barnaby Power) is Mo’s sexually deviant superior, who dreams of running ‘compassion workshops’ when he isn’t distracted by his remotely operated buttplug. And Beatrice (Clare Perkins) is their boss, a straight-talking Harlow girl who suffers fools gladly underneath her brashness. The Home Office looms large, an Orwellian presence at the end of the phone line as Mo, George and Beatrice struggle to untie a knot with deafening political resonance.
Miller and Harding’s kaleidoscopic script swims from terra firma into unchartered waters with disconcerting ease, blending the mundane with the surreal, and mixing delectably prosaic comedy with moments of exquisitely understated drama. Miller directs with verve, frequently filling the Bethany Wells’ stripped-back office set with psychedelic lights and smoke as the story dives in and out of characters’ heads.
The end result is part W1A-style satire on bureaucracy, part emotionally-charged dream sequence, part veiled political vent about the psychological damage caused by an immigration system that actively discourages humanity. Plus songs. Contemplative, minimalist, plaintive songs filled with memory, hope and humour.