Bread and Roses Theatre, London – 5 June 2021
Set in an isolated Direct Provision Centre in Ireland in 2017, I and The Village is a powerful piece of theatre, telling the story of three asylum seekers waiting to find out if they will be given permission to stay in Ireland. Jeta, Keicha and Hannah are stuck in limbo, waiting, struggling with trauma they can not directly express, all while barely existing in a state of long-term confinement and isolation.
Stories and memory are muddied and mingled together, so it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction, but their trauma is clear to see. Darren Donohue won the 2019 Bread and Roses Playwriting Award for I and the Village, and justifiably so. The combination of fantasy and reality brings a vibrant and unexpected energy to the piece. Despite the rather gruelling subject matter, he does not tread the obvious path that would take us down the route of misery porn. Humour, kindness, anger and despair weave through the play so the audience remains engaged throughout. It never becomes overwhelmingly bleak. While I cried, I also laughed.
The cast of four does a wonderful job of bringing these vibrant but damaged characters to life. Chido Kunene as Jeta stole my heart, there is such a beauty and warmth to her, a woman who focuses on caring for Keicha when she realises she may not be able to save herself. Funke Adeleke’s Keicha is a force to be reckoned with, energetic, assertive, demanding and unravelling. Laide Sonola masters silence as Hannah, the new girl, who at 18 doesn’t want to get involved, she is unwilling to need or be needed.
They inhabit a world where trauma shared is dangerous, something that risks engulfing them all. As a counterpoint Mark Rush’s Carl brings a lightness and innocence to the piece. As the centre manager he wants to do the right thing by these women, but he can’t understand the level of the trauma they’ve experienced, and he is as trapped by the workings of the system as they are.
Co-Directors Velenzia Spearpoint and Rebecca Pyle have created a sympathetic and engaging production of this exciting new play. The different scenes are tightly woven together, perfectly paced to hold the attention throughout. With a running time of two hours (including a 10 minute interval) the time flew by, as I was totally absorbed in the world of the play, the exploration of emotional truth through a playful mix of fiction and memory. It is a play I would happily watch again, as I suspect you would make new discoveries with each viewing. It would be very easy to get lost staging such a complex piece, but Spearpoint and Pyle bring a lucidity to it that leaves room for the audience to make their own connections.
I definitely recommend seeing it if you can. Not only is it a smart and sympathetic production of a vibrant new play, it also lands an urgent and important message about the treatment of Asylum seekers. While things have improved in Ireland for Asylum seekers since 2017 when this play was set (thanks to the overhaul of the Direct Provision Service in 2018), here in the UK things have only become worse for them.
The following is from the show programme: There are currently tens of thousands of Asylum Seekers in the UK, both individuals and families, living in limbo. On average it takes two or three years for the Home Office to process Asylum cases. Two or three years of waiting, unable to work or make any personal progress. Since the arrival of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the majority of Asylum Seekers have been placed in hostels, centres and disused Military Barracks in isolation, under strict Lockdown guidelines, obliged to remain in their rooms, even for meals. Mental health is critically low. Suicide attempts are regular. Brexit has further slowed the process and the new Home Office Asylum Guidelines are yet to be clarified.