dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Mercenary review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘football-based dance’

The cast of Mercenary at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Koen Broos
by -

The human cost of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar isn’t so much FIFA’s dirty little secret as an ongoing Amnesty-certified human rights violation. Thousands of migrant workers, housed in sordid accommodation with their passports confiscated, endure substandard labour conditions and extreme heat while constructing vast air-conditioned stadiums for the world’s wealthiest to enjoy.

This is the subject of footballer-turned-dance artist Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary. It’s an apt title as both adjective and noun, laced with the irony that today’s travelling soldiers of fortune – exploited immigrant labourers – can’t expect much in the way of personal gain. Death, however, remains a real possibility.

A cast of five, including Ratnamohan, use the physicality of football to depict the gruelling reality behind a Qatar 2022 theatre of dreams – the dextrous fancy footwork and pounding rapid-fire steps of a training drill are here given mechanistic uniformity.

A man and a woman, clad in breathing masks, hi-vis jackets and headscarves, manage a fleeting embrace. Snatches of dialogue allude to loneliness, wage discrepancies and rushed toilet breaks. Workwear cast aside, the group seem to find grooving respite in Giulia Loli’s Middle Eastern-infused electronica but before long they’re made inhuman once again, their perspiring bodies manipulated into strange and painful positions.

Kneeling and bent forwards, a man drips sweat into the face of another, lying supine. It’s a shame that these very striking sections are a little undermined by the work’s wandering structure. Greater detail and sharper focus could enhance this piece’s political and personal impact.

In Search of Dinozord review at the Place, London – ‘haunting and harrowing’

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
Effective but occasionally obscure football-based dance piece about Qatar 2022’s migrant workforce
^