Welcome to The Jungle. Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s debut full-length play – a co-production from the Young Vic, the National and humanitarian company Good Chance – is an extraordinary work. A sprawling, intimate, three-hour epic that sits you down in a make-shift space of plywood tables and lumpy cushions, then tells you the story of Europe’s most notorious refugee camp, from the first tents to the final eviction.
Here’s Salar, an Afhgan who runs a prosperous refugee restaurant. Here’s Okot, a Sudanese who’s been to hell and back getting here. Here’s Safi, our erudite and empathetic Syrian host, fleeing the horror of Aleppo. Here’s Beth, Sam, Derek and Paula, a gaggle of good-willed but utterly helpless British volunteers.
Murphy and Robertson’s multifarious play is flawed – the second half is too talky, the ending too abrupt – but it authoritatively emphasises several things: the unimaginable horror and psychological damage of cross-continental migration, the atrocious behaviour of our governments, and, above all, the resourcefulness and resilience of the human spirit.
The Jungle wasn’t just a holding pen, Murphy and Robertson suggest, it was a thriving, multi-cultural community, built by the hard work and hope of refugees.
Directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s achievement is to realise this spirit on stage. Together with an astonishingly accomplished cast, they turn the Young Vic into a melting pot of babbling voices, a crucible of energy and emotion. And it’s that vitality that makes The Jungle a masterpiece. A haunting, humane masterpiece. Hearts ache. Anger boils. Tears flow.