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Illegal review at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh – ‘fundamentally flawed two-hander’

Jessica Phillippi and Elena Larios. Photo: Claire Fraser
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Jessica Phillippi’s Illegal offers two stories in one, both based on true stories. The first is a semi-autobiographical account of Phillipi’s battle with the home office to secure her right to remain in the UK. The second is that of Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, the Guatemalan 20-year-old who was shot dead at the US border in May 2018.

You can see what she’s trying to do – offer up these two stories alongside one another in order to interrogate the injustice of immigration systems on both sides of the Atlantic – but she does it really clumsily. Her script flicks monotonously from one story to the other in awkward chunks, and she repeatedly slips into bizarrely cheery rhyming couplets.

It’s more than a little cringeworthy, and there’s undeniably something uncomfortable about the way Illegal places the two stories side-by-side, as if there’s anything remotely similar to a privileged US actor trying to get a UK visa, and a Guatemalan 20-year-old struggling to cross the Rio Grande.

Heather Knudtson’s production for Scandal Theatre and Riotbox admittedly makes good use of a difficult space, dangling streams of paper from the ceiling, but it can’t fix a fundamentally flawed show.

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Fundamentally flawed two-hander about two separate struggles with immigration