Babylon Beyond Borders is a momentous technical feat. At the end of the performance, a spotlight illuminates Heather Pasfield, the live stream producer, in the tech box at the back of the theatre and she receives a standing ovation. Rightly so.
This devised production by Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Pedro Granato, Mwenya Kabwe and Ruthie Osterman is one which spans four continents, taking place simultaneously in four different theatres in London, Sao Paolo, New York, and Johannesburg, addressing four different towers which have both fused and broken communities apart. Aside from a few (inevitable) technical difficulties, it’s an enormous achievement.
The biblical tale of Babel is one of both possibility and division, and that theme, though somewhat clunkily dropped in at the opening of the piece, reverberates throughout, regardless of distance and borders. The piece does become unwieldy towards its close, something which isn’t aided by some disjointed pacing, and yet there are moments of such pure theatrical magic that it’s difficult to criticise it too much.
The London segment’s tribute to Grenfell Tower is perfectly balanced in its fury, despair, and hope, with Lydia Bakelmun’s beautiful, aching performance standing out, aided by Osterman’s low key and delicate direction. And when the community chorus emerge out of the wings, Rachael Nanyonjo’s movement direction really shines for its warmth and purpose. Moments of broad satire towards the piece’s close feel unnecessary, but for the most part Annie Siddons’ writing feels textured without being dense.
This is a piece of theatre so utterly dedicated to its cause that, even if the seams strain a little, it’s difficult not to be caught up in its humanity and generosity.