The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe is one of the great unsolved problems of our times. It also presents a very real difficulty to theatremakers: what can you do or say, write or perform, that won’t feel superfluous, condescending, moralising or worse?
The Island, the Sea, the Volunteer and the Refugee acquits itself admirably on this score, despite a questionable “promenade” part at the beginning, in which we, the audience, are asked to imagine that we’re refugees, trudging – through the concrete corridors of Home – from the Bodrum on the Turkish coast, across the Aegean, to the Greek island of Kos.
Once we reach our destination – a dimly lit breeze-block broom cupboard – the small audience is seated on upturned crates and the show proper begins. Performer (and writer, and co-producer) Louise Wallwein is essentially telling us about time she’s spent helping at a refugee centre on Kos. Her testimony and poetic reflections are intercut with a selection of verbatim interviews ably performed by Sushil Chudasama.
Perhaps the main strength of the piece is its tight focus. It’s not taking on the whole refugee crisis with all the intellectual, political, economic and metaphysical questions that that entails. Instead, it’s doing no more that presenting a ground-level view and reminding us what a humanitarian disaster actually looks and feels like when you’re there. This isn’t despairing, or hand-wringing; just an admirable determination to get things done, treat our fellow humans humanely, and to remind us, back at Home, that this is still real, ongoing, and tragic.