Bread & Roses Theatre, London – until 10 February 2018
Man as a species has always travelled far and wide. Whether the reasons have been because of famine, ecological upheaval or war, migration has been a feature of man’s progress for thousands of years.
In recent times, the migration of people from war-torn regions dominated the news in 2015-16, but while the exodus has been a political ‘hot potato’ for many years, the points of view of those directly involved have been seldom asked…
Written by Doc Andersen-Bloomfield and directed by Roman Berry, Little Did I Know follows one such refugee and what happens to her over four years.
Natali Servat plays Aaneseh, a 15-year-old girl, who is sent away to keep her out of harm’s way from ‘the men in black’. In a superficial way, Aaneseh’s fate is similar to Olivia in Twelfth Night – facing dangers, turbulent seas and having to disguise oneself as a boy for safety. But that’s as far as the similarity ends.
While from time to time there’s footage shown of children in areas of conflict, most of the show is focused on Servat’s endearing performance. Before her journey begins, Aaneseh describes her happy memories with her family, in spite of all the things that were happening in the world around her.
Of all the people Aaneseh is close to in her family, it is her grandmother who has the most influence – a fountain of pragmatism. While Aaneseh’s grandmother is respectful of local customs, she also knows how in practice they don’t take into account women’s thoughts and feelings. This includes what the menfolk have in mind for Aaneseh…
Aaneseh’s journey is replete with dangers and following her grandmother’s advice, cuts her hair and binds her chest to pass herself off as a boy. Cue many humorous insights into the differences between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ regarding posture, underwear and toilet habits.
Aaneseh also strikes up a friendship with a teenager who can’t speak a word of English, but is obsessed with Frank Sinatra. This unlikely ally ends up being her protector and vice versa, keeping each other safe across Europe. Then she arrives at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Detention and Removal Centre in Britain, and that’s when her troubles REALLY begin…
By concentrating on one character – a teenage girl – Little Did I Know sidesteps empathy fatigue and gives the audience a palpable figure, through whose eyes we see the unfolding events. Looked at from another perspective, the path that Aanesah endures in Little Did I Know can be seen to be a microcosm of women over thousands of years, always hoping for a better tomorrow, but enduring hardships of one form or other.