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Don’t Look Away review at Pleasance Theatre, London – ‘new writing about the refugee crisis’

Novae Theatre's Don't Look Away at Pleasance Theatre, London. Photo: Ryan Cowan

There’s an endearing humanity to Grace Chapman’s refugee-related drama Don’t Look Away, but there’s a tragic predictability to it too. It’s a perfectly proficient piece of theatre – plot, characters and message slot together seamlessly – but there’s no spark to set it all on fire.

It’s set in Bradford, in the home of middle-aged cleaner Cath (an anxious, bruised Julia Barrie). When Cath comes across a Syrian teenager (Robert Hannouch – breathless, frantic) at her local community centre, she unexpectedly takes him in and assists him with his asylum claim, to the increasing anger of her own estranged adolescent son (Brian Fletcher, tentatively imposing).

Chapman’s theme – the simultaneous importance and insignificance of individual action in response to the refugee crisis – is arresting, and pointedly relevant to everyone that recognises the horror of the crisis but feels powerless to do anything. But it’s too formulaic and laid out too schematically. You can feel Chapman placing the dominos, then toppling them into each other. It’s touching – how could it not be? – but by-the-numbers nonetheless.

Nicholas Pitt’s production for Novae Theatre is fast-paced and fluid, although the moments of expressive dance interwoven between scenes do more to hinder than help the action. James Donnelly’s wide, narrow, curtain-fringed stage is cumbersome too. When all three characters are on stage, things seem cluttered and static. Though adeptly written, it’s awkwardly staged, and never truly engrosses.

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Verdict
Adeptly written and intermittently emotive drama about the refugee crisis that suffers from being too schematic 
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