The Scar Test review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘sensitive and poignant’

Lucy Sheen in The Scar Test at Soho Theatre, London. Photo: Rob O'Kelly Lucy Sheen in The Scar Test at Soho Theatre, London. Photo: Rob O'Kelly

Exploring the experiences of women inmates at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre, The Scar Test is a poignant look at the plight of those ensnared in the immigration system.

Writer Hannah Khalil weaves several verbatim accounts into a simple, episodic narrative – much as she did with her 2016 play Scenes from 68* Years, which explored the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict. Here though, the scope is narrower, the mood more claustrophobic.

The committed, five-strong cast slip fluidly between personas as detainees pass through the facility. Shazia Nicholls tackles the most varied roles, shifting from guard to inmate to solicitor, conveying the system’s inherent, crushing frustration from a number of perspectives. Gradually, the plot focuses on a nameless new arrival, fleeing from deliberately vague but unquestionably appalling abuses in the country of her birth.

In a powerful performance, Rebecca Omogbehin imbues the character with brittle, tightly-wound intensity, her dignified silence collapsing into gut wrenching wailing at a moment’s notice.

Director Sara Joyce breaks up each scene with snappy movement work, where performers share wordless moments of intimacy or aggression. At other times, they writhe inside oversized jumpers, struggling to retain some modesty as they undress while under continual scrutiny.

Zoe Spurr’s lighting is suitably oppressive, all gloom and stark backlights which fill the almost completely bare space with shadows and silhouettes. In the semi-darkness, and with hoods pulled up, performers appear faceless, both menacing and anonymous, dehumanised except in those moments when they make their voices heard.

Strong, sensitive performances anchor this earnest portrayal of the conditions faced by migrants