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Lunatic 19s review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a timely two-hander’

Gabriela Garcia in Lunatics 19 at Finborough Theatre, London. Photo: Marian Medic

A Latino immigration enforcement officer escorts Gracie, a young, undocumented Chicana girl towards detainment and deportation, and away from Kentucky – away from all she’s ever known.

Tegan McLeod’s play, which was shortlisted for 2018’s Papatango prize, has a timely, grim premise. As Gracie, Gabriela Garcia is formidable in her defiance. She’s forced to undertake this journey in a head-brace following a driving accident, her body rebelling against her. Garcia’s rich vocal control helps to sell her confrontations with the ex-military man, Alec (Devon Anderson); less sure of himself than her, he attempts to stay resolute and deny the common ground between them.

Jonathan Martin’s direction is unobtrusive, but feels a little tentative when it comes to the actors touching each other or moving around the set. Carla Goodman’s design consists of two bare surfaces, red like rusting metal or desert sand. Kevin Treacy’s lighting moves from hospital setting to harshly lit, anonymous rest-stop toilet to the gloomy back of the transportation van. In contrast, Edward Lewis’ sound design doesn’t make much impression.

Martin’s production makes liberal but smart use of blood throughout; it doesn’t sanitise the dirtiness of the situations in which the characters find themselves.

McLeod’s writing is occasionally a little too neat, and the narrative beats fall exactly where and when you’d expect them to, but there’s a satisfying heft to its characters, and the play interrogates and breaks down the contradictions inherent in Alec’s defensive repeating of the phrase: “I have to”.

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Strongly performed and timely, if predictable two-hander about border control